Stephanie Bradt: Here is yet another review of a book by the author I love to hate, Judy Blume. Introducing the 1974 gem, BLUBBER:
The gist: While chubby fifth grader, Linda, is giving an oral presentation on whales, her classmate, Wendy, passes a note. The note points out the fact that Linda is talking about whales and blubber while Linda herself has blubber like a whale. The fateful note is passed around, and so begins our story. The note makes its way to our protagonist, Jill Brenner (wow, these Judy Blume main characters ALL have German and/or Jewish surnames), who laughs at the note because Wendy is watching her and she wants to look cool. Throughout the rest of the story, Jill participates with Wendy and her cronies as they viciously bully Linda.
First of all, what struck me was the sheer evilness of those who bully Linda (which turns out to be probably over 75% of the school). The kids call Linda “Blubber,” they lift her skirt to make fun of her underwear, force her to strip, force her to kiss their fat male classmate, and even lock her in a closet. These kids are in fifth grade. Also, the teachers do not care. At one point, all of the students are publically weighed on a scale one by one. The teacher tells Blubber in front of everybody that Blubber needs to lose weight. Blubber says that she is just big-boned and that she is trying to lose weight and she is on a diet, to which the teacher responds, “Good.” Wow. Anyway, the students relentlessly make fun of Blubber throughout the story until the bizarre day they all randomly decide to make fun of Jill instead and Wendy suddenly becomes BFFs with Blubber. Jill is sad and Linda decides to be mean to Blubber again. The end.
I started off almost liking this book. It seemed like a believable commentary on bullying and how one harmless note can gradually escalate into serious bullying. At several points in the story, I really thought that Judy Blume would surprise me and write a meaningful book. Alas, my hopes were dashed when Blume wastes at least three golden opportunities for character development:
(1) Jill and Blubber end up at the same table together at (what a surprise, Judy Blume) a bar mitzvah, where Jill continues to antagonize Blubber even though none of their other classmates are there.
(2) Jill is best friends with a Chinese-American named Tracy Wu. Jill’s “friends” start calling Tracy a “chink” and Jill gets angry and yells at them. However, she herself does not ever even consider that that is what she was doing to Blubber.
(3) Even at the end, when the tables have turned on Jill, she never once considers how her plight is the same as Blubber’s.
Once again, Judy Blume could have had an important and powerful story. However, she holds back because she remembers that she is a shitty writer and the only goal of her books is to needlessly get themselves banned. In this “children’s” book, the characters say “damn” and “ass” and the teacher is described as being a “bitch.” Besides these token ban-worthy moments, there are also the usual useless subplots of the crazy older family member, the annoying younger sibling, and the signature Jewish character. At the very least, this book has taught me that a flenser is someone who strips whale blubber. Jill decides to be one for Halloween.
The only character I hated more than Ringleader Wendy was Jill. There is absolutely no character development with Jill or anyone else for that matter. By the end of the book, no one apologizes to Blubber, Wendy is still a bratty sociopath, and Jill remains the same weak-willed shithead she was at the beginning of the story.