It Just Feels Like The End of the World
It's Not The End of the World by Judy Blume
I must confess, I have some reservations about sending It's Not the End of the World to you.
Don't get me wrong, it's a good book. I loved it the first time I read it as a teenager and found the book to be just as solid and interesting when I re-read it last week. Not surprising considering the author is Judy Blume and I don't think she could write a bad teenage novel if she tried. I read every book of hers I could get my hands on when I was a teenager.
It's Not the End of the World aptly illustrates why Blume is such a good writer.
Strong CharactersPerhaps it's a misnomer to say her characters are strong. They aren't strong in the sense that they'll be out lifting weights or that they always know exactly what to do. Rather, they are strong in a literary sense. Blume creates characters who act they way you would expect them to act if they were real people instead of simply typed words on paper.
Karen Newman gains her literary strength in her very weakness and vulnerability. Her parents have announced that they are divorcing-thereby shattering the security and comfort of their three children: Jeff, the 14-year old brother, Karen, our 12-year-old protagonist, and Amy, the little sister (six years old) who is barely able to understand what is happening.
Karen struggles through all the stages of grief without ever appearing to be a textbook case study. First she denies the obvious, then she fights against it, then she gets angry, and finally she begins to accept. It's Not the End of the World is ultimately the story of her struggle.
Realistic PlotIt's Not the End of the World was written in 1972 and the book does have a few signs of wear. Karen is the exception among her friends for having divorced parents. Val, whom her father introduces her to, is seen as unusual and possessing of more worldly wiles because her parents are divorced. Sadly, it is no longer unusual for children to have divorced parents. Indeed, children like yourself-who have both parents happily married and living together-are rather the exception than the rule. If this book were written in 2001, Karen would experience much less isolation and shame than she does in 1972. I don't think, however, her struggles would be that much different. Certainly today she would receive much less sympathy and pity from those around her. Also, the book continues to be reprinted with new covers for each new decade, so I don't think you'll find it completely outdated.
Part of Judy Blume's appeal is that she writes stories that are very realistic. Very few teenagers can expect to walk through a wardrobe into a hidden world or to receive a message from an owl inviting them to Hogwarts. They can, however, identify with Judy Blume's characters and the decisions they make as part of everyday life and the emotional turmoil they experience.
Relevant Portrayal of AdolescenceJudy Blume has always impressed me because she never forgot what it was like to be a teenager. Her books are never condescending and never moralize. Instead, she treats her readers with the utmost respect. She confronts the tough questions that teenagers and pre-teens struggle with, knowing that there can be no single pat answer that will work for every person.
There is a real growth in her characters as they leave behind the relative irresponsibility of childhood and begin to discover the world of independence.
Source of my HesitationSo what are my reservations about sending you this book that I have so far done nothing but praise? My reservations come from my own memories of this book.
Blume tenders a powerful picture of the pain and loss children experience when a marriage breaks up. For a long time after I read the book, I fretted that my parents were heading for a divorce every time they fought. So powerful was Blume's empathetic writing, that I found myself immersed in the same emotions that Karen felt.
When I was looking up the original publication date of this book on the Web (I didn't have the book at hand), I found the following quote by Judy Blume about this book:
"I lived in suburban New Jersey with my husband and two children, on a street with about twenty other families. As some of those families began to split up, my children had questions. At the same time, I wasn't really happy in my own marriage, but I couldn't admit it. I think I needed to tell this story to answer my questions as well as my childrens'. When I finished I dedicated the book to my husband, trying to prove everything was okay with us. Of course, it wasn't, and we divorced a few years later."
That might explain why the book is so powerful in evoking the emotions that it does. I wouldn't want to give you those same anxieties by sending you this book. I think it is an important book because it describes so acutely how a divorce feels to the children (of whatever age) and even though I would never expect your parents to split, it might give you a glimpse into what some of your friends and peers are experiencing. Plus, it is simply a well-written book. So, I'll send it because the strengths of this book far outweigh my one reservation. That, and I know you are a more sensible girl than I was at your age and can handle the mature nature of the subject.