Oh Judy, you disappoint me.

December 10, 2010 § 1 Comment

This is a very late post on Banned Books Week that happened back in October, but I’m going to post it anyway.

My husband and I were walking in the library and I noticed the display of books that were once–and sometimes still–band from reading in the school systems.  So of course, I had to see what they were.  There weren’t very many that surprised me–Huck Finn and The Color Purple–but I did notice two that did:  TTFN by Lauren Myracle and Deenie by Judy Blume.  And, unsurprisingly, I definitely checked them out.

I didn’t even get through page of of TTFN; however, a book definitely written for tweens raised in a technological world.  The entire book is written in a series of emails, IMs, and text messages.  And while I applaud Myracle for her creative style, the endless line breaks and emoticons and terrible text-spelling made my eyes swim.

Deenie was a better, though much faster, read.  Although, here’s the thing:  the genius behind Superfudge let me down in a major way.

The book tells the story of a sixth-grader who finds out she has scoliosis and has to wear this hideous brace contraption for the next four years.  A very interesting plot, I thought, and definitely surprising when I saw that the book was banned for sexual content.

I liked the idea of the plotline, but Blume failed in cultivating a sense of a teenage girl searching for her identity.  It ended abruptly with the implication that she started liking herself with or without the brace, and then I had to wonder how it fit into the plotline from the beginning?  There was no substance.  It was as if Blume wrote a very well-written outline of what Deenie was going to be about, and that was it.

And the sexual content?  Yeah, I could see how it definitely would be banned seeing how it touched multiple times on that awkward “M” word and Deenie often asks the timeless question, “What is sex?”  The content could’ve existed as a great subplot–tween girl has to figure out not only her self-identity but her sexual identity all while wearing this metal brace–but instead the sections on sex exploded off the page and slammed me in the face as hard as a MAK truck and then were suddenly dropped by the end of the paragraph as if she never introduced the topic at all.

For example (and I’m paraphrasing here), at one point Deenie is contemplating how she is to cope with this brace on and how terrible it will be to wear it and then she says, “But then I touch myself in my special place and I feel better” and the next sentence is her wondering what people will think of her in school.

I realize where Blume should go with this.  She should have expounded on Deenie’s “special place” as that private outlet she goes to in order to forget the rest of the world.  After all, isn’t that what sex is sort-of meant to be in the first place?  Instead, Blume seems to throw it in as if to say, “Ah-ha!  I fulfilled the requirement of teenage sexuality, but since I feel awkward with it too, I won’t dwell on it.”

There is another instance in the book where the Gym teacher talks to all the girls in Deenie’s class about their changing bodies, a scene that could’ve been completely relevant to today’s girls.  Deenie asks a question about sex, a question that Blume implies all the other girls are wondering, too.  The teacher answers the question, and the next paragraph is about Deenie at home with her overbearing mother.  So, as a reader, I’m left unsatisfied as to how I’m supposed to compartmentalize this question on sex as far as the content of the book goes.

The thing is, Blume could have used blossoming sexuality in such a provocative and somewhat enlightening way that addresses timeless issues faced by all pubescent girls at one time or another.  She could have extrapolated on how identity of the self is jointed with one’s sexual identity, and whether the two can actually be separated from one another, the same way the question “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” can’t be pulled apart.  And by using a girl wearing a scoliosis brace would have made for an interesting plotline.

Blume could’ve used the overbearing mother who thinks it’s embarrassing and horrifying that her teenage girl has to wear this brace in public a way to address, again, the age-old Mother/Daughter complex.  Or created a different, yet relatable, family issue.  Instead, Blume drops the torch in a terrible way and can’t seem to pick it back up again.

If it were my school, I would definitely ban it–not for the sexual content but for the poor execution.  Or perhaps I would use it as an example of what not to do.


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