Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tween Tuesday (14) - Deenie by Judy Blume

Deenie by Judy Blume

Tween Tuesday is a weekly meme created by GreenBeanTeenQueen, one of my favorite blogs. Surprise, surprise - it features books aimed at Tweens.


This is  one of my reviews for the Banned Book Challenge. Go to the main post on StephSuReads' site here and my post discussing the challenge here.


 (This is the cover of the book I read years ago. It looks very 80s, but I think it's prettier than a lot of the modern covers.)

Summary

When Deenie finds out that she has scoliosis, she’s scared. When she sees the brace for the first time, she wants to scream.

But the words won’t come out. And Deenie, beautiful Deenie, who everyone says should be a model, is stuck wearing a brace from her neck to her hips. For four years—or longer. She never worried about how she looked before—how will she ever face the hard times ahead? (courtesy of Amazon)

Review

I first read Deenie in 4th or 5th grade. It was one of my favorite books as a kid. I'd recently been diagnosed with scoliosis, and Deenie was one of the few books that dealt with that condition in any form. I must have read the book half a dozen times. I decided to revisit Deenie in honor of the Banned Book Challenge. I hadn't touched the book in nearly twenty years. I was surprised how much I'd missed when reading the book as a kid. Or perhaps not missed, but not really cared about.

At the beginning of the book, Deenie is a shallow, vain little girl. She's not mean outright, but carefully avoids anyone who doesn't fit into her view of perfection. This includes Barbara, a new girl who has a bad case of eczema, or the "Creeping Crud," as Deenie calls it. Deenie's mother is to blame for much of her daughter's vanity. Everything has always been about elevating Deenie's beauty. "Deenie's the beauty. Helen's the brain," her mother likes to say (this is a quote that I could recite from memory after 20 years). Her mother has a grand plan to turn Deenie into a model. Deenie isn't necessarily opposed, but also wants to try out for cheerleading and be a normal kid. I wanted to slap Deenie's mother throughout the entire novel. Occasionally, I wanted to slap Deenie as well, but I felt sorry for the pressure she had put upon her.

Deenie's world is turned upside down when she is diagnosed with severe scoliosis. The best treatment at the time (early 1970s), other than surgery, required Deenie to wear a back brace for at least four years. Suddenly, Deenie is no longer the beauty - she's a freak. This, understandably, throws a huge wrench into Deenie's world outlook. She becomes an emotional wreck, lashing out at anyone and everyone. I think everyone would be the same. Her mother certainly doesn't help matters; she looks for someone to blame more than she attempts to support her daughter. As Deenie adjusts to her brace, she learns to be more accepting of other people. Beauty isn't quite as important. And the girl with the "Creeping Crud" may be worth her respect after all.

In some ways, I was disappointed with my re-read of Deenie. I thought the characters were flat and the writing was too simplistic. It felt reminiscent of the cookie-cutter after-school movies. I did like how Judy Blume took Deenie on a journey, using a conflict to turn a conceited girl into a thoughtful young woman. I did think that the other characters were one-dimensional, but on the other hand, each character played a different role. Deenie's mother was uniformly awful, but Deenie's father was uniformly great. If you put everyone together, you see the whole gamut of reactions. Perhaps my problem with Deenie is that it felt dated...I'm not sure. The themes of the book are just as true today as they were then, but the today's YA writing is a step above Blume's prose.

Deenie ranks 42nd in the ALA 100 most challenged books list from 1990-1999. I couldn't remember why until re-reading the book. Now, I definitely understand - not that I agree with it - but it's very clear why people consider it objectionable. There are several references to masturbation, particularly one in a sex education context that I'm sure enrages many people. I thought it was rather pointless. It didn't further the plot at all, but there was nothing offensive about it. I didn't notice it when I read the book at 9 years old. All the offensive content of the book went completely over my head. I can see why some parents may want to keep Deenie from their children. I don't know that I would give it to a 9 year old, unless that child was as naive as I was, but that's why it's important for parents to monitor their own children's reads rather than just flatly banning books. Deenie was an enormously influential and touching book for me as a child. I'd hate to see any kid denied the opportunity to love it simply because some other parents object.

Rating:

When I was a kid: 5 / 5

Today: 3.5 / 5

9 comments:

  1. Great review...you know, I often read offensive material when I was young, and it didn't mean a thing to me. Perhaps those who ban the books should take things like that into account...

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  2. Thanks for the review. I have never heard of this, but I think I might put on my TBR-- keeping your points in mind.

    Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog

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  3. Great review, I've never heard of this one before. You're right about the cover, I like it too.

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  4. Great review! I think it's hard to go back to books we loved when we were young. They almost never live up to our memories of it. You're brave going back to one you reread so often!

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  5. Great review. When I went back and re-read one of my childhood favorites (Jennifer, Hectate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth) I was surprised that I didn't pick up on the race issues at all when I was a child. It's amazing what actually goes over kids heads that people think will really be an issue.

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  7. It's interesting to hear how your reactions changed between your first and second read through. I would love to get my current students hooked on Judy Blume, but I'm afraid they're a little dated... One of my JBlume favorites was "Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great."

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  8. Thank you so much for reminding me about this book! I completely forgot about my love of Judy Blume!

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  9. I remembered reading and really enjoying Deenie when I was in middle school, probably aged about 11. I found a copy of it for about 50p at a library sale and had a similiar sort of reaction, disappointment: "Was that it?" and "I never noticed THAT before!" Having seen it on a banned book list I wondered whether they were thinking of the same Deenie as I had read. Any references not intended for my age at the time went right over my head too.

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