The Enduring Wisdom of Tiger Eyes, the First Judy Blume Book to Become a Movie

Slate's Culture Blog
April 25 2013 12:31 PM

The Enduring Wisdom of Tiger Eyes

tigereyes

To say “I love Judy Blume” is to say “I was once an adolescent girl who read.” It seems pointless to lavish praise on Blume’s work, because it’s been done so many times before, and deservedly. Hence the essay collection Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned From Judy Blume.

But even the YA writer par excellence has a standout work: Tiger Eyes, a gently wrenching story about teenage girl whose father is murdered during a robbery.

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This week brought the first trailer for a film adaptation of Tiger Eyes. The movie, which will hit theaters and video on demand June 7, marks the first time a Blume book has been made for the big screen. Blume co-wrote the script with her son Lawrence, who also directed it—and for fans of the book, like me, that’s a relief. It is nearly impossible to imagine Blume would take part in a project that would distort or diminish the truth of Tiger Eyes.

Tiger Eyes was one of two books that helped me limp through the aftermath of my own father’s unexpected death. (The other was a sentimental novel beloved by grandmothers. I was an odd kid.) I was 11, a bit younger than 15-year-old Tiger Eyes protagonist Davey, but no matter—tweens love to think of themselves as a bit beyond their years. Many other details were different, too, of course. Davey’s family moves from Atlantic City, N.J., to Los Alamos, N.M., to escape the grief, while mine stayed put. But so many Davey’s feelings and experiences—her confusion, her resentment, her fear, her detachment, her sometimes odd behavior, her inability to decide whether she wants to be left alone or be with others—rang true, and that gave me comfort. If Judy Blume said that this was what adolescent grief should be, then what I was experiencing was OK.

Blume also captures beautifully the frequent inability of adults to help children in mourning. Rather than appearing neglectful or cruel, the grownups in Davey’s life are themselves struggling with mourning and internal conflict. Davey’s mother keeps it together for a few weeks before falling apart, spending most of her time in bed and on pain medication for migraines. Her aunt and uncle in Los Alamos, with whom the family moves in, mean well, but Davey seethes at their hypocrisies. Her uncle is a safety fanatic even as he works on the development of nuclear weapons. Her aunt, who wanted children but was unable to conceive, seems to relish a little too much having a wounded family in her care. Davey’s gradual realization that the adults around her are in turmoil, too, is a subtle lesson in something that can be very difficult for a grieving child to comprehend.

Halfway through the book, Davey picks a fight with her younger brother, trying to force him to say that he misses their father. Afterward, she regrets it. “It’s just that I have this need to talk about my father, with someone who knew him and loved him the way I did,” she narrates. I got it. And when Davey eventually begins to heal, it helped me imagine healing, too.

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 

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