When I was devouring Blume’s books as a kid, I didn’t know much about her. It was the early ’80s, before the internet and having access to all the information a person is willing, and sometimes not willing, to give. All I knew was that she had grown up in New Jersey and danced ballet like her titular character, Sally J. Freedman (there was black and white photo of 10-year old Blume in a tutu on the inside cover of the copy I borrowed from the library). I assumed she had a perfect life, imagining her as one of the easy-going, understanding moms in her novels, the mom I often wished I had.
But like Madeleine L’Engle (who I also assumed to have a life like those of her characters), Blume’s life wasn’t “cupcakes all the way” (my new favorite phrase, by the way). She and her first husband divorced, which perhaps is depicted in It’s Not the End of the World. Her second husband, a physicist, moved them to New Mexico, but the marriage lasted just a year. “It was a disaster, a total disaster,” Blume has said. I can’t help but wonder if Walter in Tiger Eyes is based on this man. He’s a scientist in New Mexico, and is very rigid. In the book he’s somewhat more sympathetic, but maybe there wasn’t room in the movie to explore him more fully. Also, Blume’s father died suddenly when she was just 21, the core theme of Tiger Eyes and also touched upon in Sally J. Freedman, in which 10-year old Sally is afraid that her father will die early, the way his brothers did.
In Tiger Eyes, fifteen-year old Davey Wexler’s father has just died suddenly. While in the book you know how from the beginning, the movie doesn’t reveal this until later, so I won’t reveal it now. Devastated by the sudden death, Davey and her family take up the offer of Bitsy, Davey’s aunt, to spend some time with her and their uncle Walter in New Mexico. There, Davey, her mother, and brother all try to deal with, or avoid, their grief.
The first time I read the book, I was 10 or 11. I hadn’t really deal with any tough issues by then. My grandmother died around that time, but I wasn’t close with her. The biggest troubles I had faced were a hardass mom and being embarrassed at school.
This may be why I never cried while reading Tiger Eyes. It made me feel sad, but it wasn’t like in Blubber when suddenly Jill, the protagonist, is the one being bullied. The movie was another story. I cried pretty much from minute one (and having no tissues, had to use the sleeves of my T-shirt to wipe my eyes and nose).
All of the actors were excellent. Willa Holland, best known perhaps for a recurring role on Gossip Girl, was terrific as Davey. She had the perfect blend of vulnerability and toughness, and her reaction to weird Danielle (of the fuzzy creature pinned to her shoulder) is priceless. Amy Jo Johnson (who I first thought was Hilary Swank) was also great as Davey’s mom, as well Lucien Dale, who played Jason, especially for one so young. Dale had me absolutely sobbing during one scene. I literally had to cover my mouth to keep quiet.
Overall, Tiger Eyes was a lovely movie. I was glad to see that it was so faithful to the book (not surprising since Blume co-wrote the screenplay with her son Lawrence, who also directed the movie). Of course some changes were made: a few parts have been cut or collapsed with other scenes, some elements have been updated (in the book Davey refuses to wear a bike helmet while in the movie it’s a matter of course that she does), and there’s one big change which I won’t give away, except to say it doesn’t really change the plot or feeling of the book, and it’s probably something that most readers wanted anyway.
If you’re a Judy Blume fan, you’ll love this movie. If you’re a fan of Judy herself, you’ll love it even more.