You know that bit they do once in a while on The Tonight show with Jimmy Fallon… Do Not Read These Books? Well I want you to get that jingle firmly planted in your head as you read this. “Do not read. Do not read. Do not read these books, these books.” That seems like a really good place to start with this review.
My love for reading was fostered when I was very young. My mom would walk my sister and me to the small library in our town every week to check out books. When we were a little older, she would read us a chapter or two from a book as we were settling into bed. Our favorite authors were Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. Recently, I saw that they were turning Blume’s, Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret?, into a movie and I was excited. Frankly, I haven’t read the book, or anything by Judy Blume, since the 80’s, so I decided to pick up a copy and reread it.
While searching for the book, it was suggested I also read the book, Blubber, by Blume. The cover was really cute, with its pastel colors and little whale with a heart. The synopsis said this was a book about, “bullying, self-discovery, and what makes a true friendship.” It seemed like it would be a book with a fat protagonist who learns to clap back and love herself. Yay! Well, I have now learned the age-old lesson about judging a book by its cover. I HATED THIS BOOK!
In fact, it physically PAINED me to read, Blubber. The story centers around a Pennsylvania 5th grader, Jill. The events of the story, intended for young readers… maybe around 10 years old… are told through her eyes. Jill is supposed to be an average kid… clever, smart, and relatively well-liked. In reality, she is an entitled brat. She and her best friend, Tracy, are part of a group of kids who seem like the most cruel bullies ever. In fact, the main bully, Wendy, makes Regina George seem like a saint. These kids should be in jail!
Their main target is an overweight girl in their class named Linda, who they nickname, Blubber. Throughout the entire book, I wanted to scream out loud in defense of poor Linda! The way the kids in the class treated her made me sick, made me want to cry, and actually hurt my heart. What they do is not just teasing, or even what I would consider bullying… it is evil and torturous. They pin her to the ground in the bathroom and strip her down to her underwear. They force her to show her underwear to the boys in class. They make her refer to herself as Blubber to be able to get a drink or walk by. They lock her in a closet. They force her to eat chocolate covered ants till she pukes on herself. I mean, SERIOUSLY?!?! (Again, this is a KIDS book.)
The adults turn a blind eye and never come to Linda’s defense. They don’t even believe Linda when she tells the truth. They allow the other students to gaslight them into believing a completely different narrative. NONE of the kids ever seem to feel shame, remorse, or empathy. Jill, only feels sorry when the tables are turned on her and she gets bullied herself.
I really considered abandoning the book, but I hoped that there was a lesson in it. I truly believed that there would something redemptive. But the closer I got to the end, I realized that there was not a lesson to be learned at all… unless that lesson is, be careful because bullies get bullied eventually. As someone who has been bullied and who watches young kids bully each other every day, this book did not sit well with me AT ALL. Even Blume’s post script about bullying is a vapid attempt to tell kids to speak up.
I don’t care that this book was published in 1974 and “times were different.” There is absolutely nothing redeeming about the story. While I normally pass the books I read on to the school library, a Little Free Library, or my nieces, I will not be sharing this book with anyone. I kind of want to go in the back yard and burn it.