Review: Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume

Tiger Eyes book coverAs I think I’ve mentioned earlier, I wasn’t a huge Judy Blume fan growing up, although I did read most of her stuff for younger readers. My MFA course instructor wanted me to read several of Blume’s books for this semester and Tiger Eyes was one I picked. It was first published in 1981 and I have to say it holds the test of time pretty well, with a couple exceptions I’ll mention below.

New Jersey teenager Davey’s father has just been killed in a robbery/murder at his 7-Eleven store, leaving her, her mom, and her 7-year-old brother, Jason, all behind. Davey’s mom is not coping at all, and Davey isn’t doing so well, herself. She has panic attacks at school and passes out more than once. Davey’s aunt (her dad’s sister) and uncle visited for the funeral and left an open invitation to visit them in New Mexico if they need to. After Davey’s fainting spells, that’s what her mom decides to do.

So the three of them head off to Los Alamos and stay with Bitsy and Walter. At first, Walter insists on showing them around like they’re happy tourists and Davey is soon bored to death. She pushes back and takes off on Bitsy’s bike to explore a little, escaping to the nearby canyon, where she also meets the elusive Wolf.

Bitsy clearly relishes her new role a mother hen while Davey’s mom stands by basically catatonic. They’re there long enough that the two kids have to enroll in school. Davey fights it but loses and soon starts at the local high school, where she is befriended by Jane. Things develop from there in ways I really didn’t expect. I thought this was going to be a love story, but it’s not. It’s deeper than that and goes into healing after a trauma and just dealing with relationships and the unexpected turns they sometimes take.

I mentioned there were a couple of aspects of the book that made it not age as well as it could have. Davey is overall a pretty decent kid who you could imagine in modern novel. Her best friend is a black girl who can’t stand basketball and loves science. Wolf’s Hispanic and she definitely likes him. But at one point when she’s frustrated at her brother for making baking his new hobby, she walks in on him preparing cookies and calls his apron “faggy.” I mean, uh. But even worse is the overt racism that Davey’s friend Jane displays toward all Hispanics. Davey doesn’t get it because she definitely doesn’t feel the same, but Jane is still a major secondary character and it’s pretty unpleasant (although it doesn’t get mentioned very often, to be fair—maybe three times—but it’s a stain). I know that this is painting an accurate picture of the town/gown divide in Los Alamos because of the national lab there (at least at the time; I don’t know if it’s still like that), where all the lab scientists are white and all the laborers are Hispanic. But still.

With those caveats, I can honestly say I really enjoyed the story. Davey’s a really sympathetic character and we see her standing up for herself and her family when she needs to. It might be Blume’s best book.