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19 May 2006

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My main problem with _Blubber_ is that kids use it as a blueprint.

Leila

I really think that if kids are going to be rotten to each other, it's going to happen regardless of whether or not they read Blubber.

claire

I recently reread this too, and I was struck by how perfectly Judy Blume stays away from moralizing; Blubber is like a moderately-less-bleak version of The Chocolate War. Now, I dislike TCW intensely, but I think Blubber is genius because it's not dark simply for the sake of darkness but in the service of a realistic story that kids can recognize and deconstruct on their own.

At the same time that I want to slap Jill, I love the fact that Judy Blume never gives in to the easy, "gosh, I've seen the error of my ways and I'll never treat anyone badly again." Plus she's a subtly unreliable narrator, and has absolutely no remorse at any point in the story, even when she recognizes how much she's hurt when the tables have turned. And Linda isn't really a martyr or noble soul at all -- Jill pinpoints exactly why she's tortured, because she's a doormat -- and doesn't suddenly shine with wisdom or experience when given some power of her own at the end of the book. She acts just as badly as the other kids.

Two incidental things struck me on this rereading: one, that Linda isn't specifically targeted because she's fat. At one point early on, we learn that there are two girls in the grade that are fatter than she is, and one boy in the school who is MUCH fatter than she is. Linda's a target because she isn't smart, doesn't stand up for herself, and seems to see herself as a victim rather than an agent of change. Maybe this is where the slightly-less-bleak-thanThe-Chocolate-War part comes in? And two, no wonder it seemed frighteningly familiar: the story was explicitly set in the town where I grew up! How did I, a fat nerdy kid, somehow miss that entirely the first time I read it?

Leila

Linda also reminded me a bit of the main character in the movie Welcome to the Dollhouse. (Not physically, but in the not-very-smart, not-very-nice, easy-to-see-why-they're-tormented sort of way.)

As for what you said -- Yes, yes and yes some more! (Except for TCW, which I love.)

Linda is teased for being fat, but not because she's fat. There's a playground scene involving a jumprope chant that really highlights that. It's odd that the 'being able to laugh at yourself' advice is technically true, but it seems to be true more as a way of life than as a specific way of responding to harrassment.

And yes to no-remorse-Jill -- when everyone turns on her, she blames Linda, (and Wendy, of course) but, she certainly doesn't see herself as responsible. Like you said, there's no big "error of her ways" message.

The last few pages are almost exactly like the first few -- the whole thing is just brilliant.

Thanks for posting! You made me want to read it AGAIN!

claire

This all made me want to read it again too... thank YOU for posting! I'm usually a lurker, but this post got me all jumping out of my seat. I really don't think I've given Judy Blume enough time or credit in the last couple years; maybe next week I'll host my own private JudyBlumeFest. Whoo! Maybe, now that I'm older than thirteen, I'll even read Forever for the parts OTHER than the sex scene.

Doesn't Jill's lack of insight into the emotional situation remind you of Harriet the Spy a little bit? I think Harriet's a lot more extreme -- in fact, I'm convinced she has Asperger's, but I can't find anything anywhere to back me up except other friends who work with Aspy kids -- but Jill's skewed sense of righteousness when she eggs the neighbor's house, for example, and her inability to connect Linda's feelings to her own, definitely makes me think of Harriet.

web

Re: kids being mean to each other anyway. True, without doubt. But I know a lot of people who felt especially victimized by having an... "authorized" version of bullying, if that makes sense. Like Blubber gave kids adult permission to be nasty. Not Blume's intention I'm sure, but I still can't help but hate that book.

Sarah

Yup, I'm on board with the "kids will find their own ways to be mean, no matter what they're reading" school of thought. I also agree that now I'll have to read this book again, for about the hundredth time. I thought another book that really "got it" was Nat Hentoff's "This School is Driving Me Crazy," with boys and a slightly older and more vicious bullying situation. All great books though. I wonder if everyone who likes them was bullied at some point, or if bulliers like the book too? Or perhaps every kid is a bully and a bullied both at some point, and therefore every kid can get something out of it? I don't know.

habab

whats the name of the charecters in blubber

littlem

1) I thought IMMEDIATELY of The Chocolate War - which also has a sequel, which is also harshly, brutally brilliant.

2) I also loved "This School is Driving Me Crazy", because the bullies get their comeuppance. From a smartass who will probably grow up to be a functional human. Yessss.

3) I don't think Harriet had (has? these characters are immortal, I think) Aspbergers. I think she had ADHD and Venus in Aries. She calmed right down when she got the school paper editorship (except for what appeared in the paper, and who's to say Marion wasn't writing worse in her journal - and remember what Beth Ellen ended up doing in "Long Secret"), and her dad was in advertising, for goodness sake - if you were an Upper East Side kid like that, wouldn't you just shove your boundaries to see how far they could go? Doesn't necessarily make her Aspey. Although it could (mildly so).

4) Claire, it's called denial as an underestimated mental health device for socially acceptable behavior in your current environment. Keeps you off the antidepressants in the era of Bush II. Don't knock it.

fifth grade hell

I'll chime in to agree with those who claim kids use "Blubber" as a blueprint for abusing others. My fifth grade teacher read this book aloud to us, I think with the idea that we would learn some sort of lesson about what bullying did, not just to the picked-on kids, but also to the bullies. Well, apparently that lesson was too subtle for fifth-graders.

Let me tell you what they *did* learn. I was ten pounds overweight in the fifth grade. Guess what those kids called me all the way through junior high, even after I'd lost weight. Guess how often I was tripped and ganged up on--how often I had my lunch sack and books tossed into the creek that ran past our school. The only way to escape the constant abuse was to attend high school in another state, which I did. (And guess how often my parents told me to "ignore it" or "laugh it off" or "pretend you can't hear them." I now teach children that if someone attempts to bully them, the best--nay, only--way to stop it forever is a nice hard fist to the nose, school suspension be damned.)

To be frank, I will hate this book for the rest of my life.

Your mileage, of course, may vary.

rachel

i loved this book it made me feel like i wanted to be jill and linda for being bulied

darvenginzks

I've recently joined and wanted to introduce myself :)

Elene

Can you type in the end of Blubber? Sone pages of the book are missing, and I am really upset.

oneda

i love the book blubber and im 11 and when i readed it. it sad bithc,hell and i just did not like it

JASMINA

IDK WHAT DO YOU MEAN JUDY BLUME IS A GUNIUS SOUNDS LIKE SHES MAKING FUN OF THIS GIRL BECAUSE WHY ELSE WOULD THEY BANNED THE BOOK

Leah

yupp i love this book

K Bashlor

I read this book 30 years ago when I was in 5th grade. Unfortunately I emulated the bad behavior. I chose a poor unsuspecting little girl to make fun of. This book had an adverse effect on me. None of the adults around me ever caught on to what was happening, or where it was I had learned to treat this other little girl so badly.

Megan Cromwell

I read this book at age 12 (about a year older than the characters in the book) and I was the fat girl. I cried reading it because I was going through that kind of torment. My mom picked it up when I'd left it lying around the house and flipped through it. She sat down with me and asked me if I go through stuff like that at school. I fibbed a bit and didn't give her details, but that, yes, I was picked on and tormented often.

The difference between Linda and me, though, was that I had friends because I still had some modicum of self worth. After I went to administration in the seventh grade, my bully was threatened with expulsion and I think "being nailed to the wall" was mentioned as well. The girls were still evil, but I was able to deal with it far easier after getting the main jerk off my back.

V. A.

I would like to comment on what some of you have said about why Linda gets picked on: because she doesn't stand up for herself or is weak or "not smart." I will tell you this right here and now: NO ONE deserves to get bullied for ANY reason. Not if he/she is skinny. Not if he/she wears glasses. Not if he/she is overweight. Not if he/she is shy. Not if he/she is sensitive. Not if he/she is intellectual. Not if he/she is short or tall. And not for ANY OTHER reason. Linda didn't deserve to get bullied any more than a rape victim deserves to get raped or a child deserves to be abused by a parent or a woman deserves to get the crap beaten out of her by her boyfriend or husband or a child deserves to be molested.

"A person gets what she deserves," Jill smugly says to herself as she and her best friend are vandalizing--yes, vandalizing; let's call it for what it is--Linda's house on Halloween night. No, Jill is wrong--and so are many of you who may as well be saying the same thing she is. The blame needs to be put where it belongs--on Wendy, for starting this horrendous abuse and on Jill and the other kids for participating in it.

Leila

My $.02: I don't think that people here were saying that Linda deserved to be picked on, just that they understood why she was picked on, while other students weren't. Understanding the way that bullies think isn't the same thing as thinking the same way they think.

Jennifer

This book has been one of my favorites for many years-and I've been both Linda and Jill. Linda more often, but when I was in fifth grade I was in Jill's shoes at one point.

I think the book works better because there's no easy "Jill suddenly realizes that everyone is wrong to pick on Linda, she befriends Linda, they become best buddies, and Wendy et al go down." Most of the time in real life, that doesn't happen, and I think Judy Blume was right not to embrace this approach.

Also, having been bullied many times myself, and done some of it (mostly for the opportunity not to be the bullied and to try to get the pleasure, so to speak, of having this kind of social power), I can say that I don't think anyone deserves it or "asks for it." I didn't, and neither did my victims. That said, I do think there are factors, shall we say, that make it more likely that a kid will be bullied. And plenty of them exist in Blubber.

One such factor is isolation. We read that Linda prefers to eat lunch by herself, and doesn't have any friends in the class. Later in the book, after Jill has stood up to Wendy, she realizes that she needs an ally to help fend off the bullying and asks Rochelle if she can eat lunch with her. In the last chapter, she asks Rochelle to be her partner on a field trip.

Another is not having adult support from parents or teachers. Mrs. Minish closes her eyes to the bullying-and even facilitates it by telling Linda to be more careful when Wendy trips her. Miss Rothbelle actively participates in it by pulling Linda's hair. And Linda doesn't seem to have confided in her own mother-she fails to expose Jill at the bar mitzvah, which would have been a good time for her to do so.

I think a third comes when one makes clear that one has a vulnerability. Linda is ostensibly made fun of for being fat, although she's not the fattest person in the fifth grade, or even in Mrs. Minish's class. That honor belongs to Bruce, who joins in the bullying. The difference between Bruce and Linda is that Bruce has a self-confidence that Linda lacks. When he jumps rope to Donna's rhyme, Jill soliloquizes that he suits the rhyme even better than Linda. Linda stays inside to avoid those making fun of her. But Bruce doesn't care what others think of him. Linda, on the other hand, is too self-conscious about being fat after she gives the report on whales. While she wasn't "asking" for her victimhood, she doesn't stand up for herself. She makes it known that her treatment is humiliating and hurtful-which is exactly the reaction the bullies are looking for.

Finally, I think a kid is most likely to be bullied in a group where there is strong leadership that the other kids are afraid to challenge. There is an unspoken understanding: "Everyone knows you don't cross Wendy." And when Jill does, Wendy turns everyone against Jill-even Linda. Linda, in fact, runs to Wendy's side once she's no longer being bullied-and this results in Wendy denouncing her friendship. Linda goes back to being isolated and a potential victim again.

How does Wendy get her power to begin with? For one thing, she's smart and has plenty of charisma. She's class president, group science leader, recess captain, and head of the goldfish committee. For another, she knows how to manipulate the adults-she lies to Mr. Nichols without batting an eyelash. She takes advantage of Mrs. Minish's distraction to pass notes and plan havoc. And finally, she distributes favors as a tool, such as her enabling of Caroline's cheating and allowing class members to sit on the "jury" in the trial scene. So nobody wants to "tell" on Wendy, because her favors will disappear, she can manipulate both the adults and the kids against her victim of choice, and because telling is considered "tattling" and this is a serious taboo.

So there are a lot of themes in Blubber about how bullying gets started and why it continues. But I think it would be completely incorrect to say that Judy Blume endorses any of the bullying that happens-whether to Linda, to Jill, or anyone else-or that anyone "deserves" to be bullied, just that certain elements in situations with kids seem to make it more likely to happen than not.

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