You had a scary book for 1983's K-3 winner, but I had a sad one -- Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume. (Yes, another Blume book! But it doesn't surprise me at all, and it won't be the last one!)
It should be noted that in 1983, this winner was for grades 4-8, and really, this is not a book I would recommend to 4th graders. Really, this winner is for grades 8+ (and is also probably a good example of why the BCBA later on gave separate awards to grades 3-5 and 6-8).
I've read a lot of Judy Blume books, but somehow Tiger Eyes escaped me. Reading it for the first time as an adult, I can say that it sucked me in, just as I remember other Blume books doing when I read them as a kid.
Davey is a 15-year-old girl about to start high school when her father is shot and killed in a robbery. She struggles to deal with the tragedy, despite help from her mother, extended family, and her best friend, Lenaya. After several anxiety attacks while at school, Davey's mom picks up the family and temporarily moves to New Mexico to live with relatives in order to help Davey deal with her father's death. There, she meets a boy named Wolf, calls herself Tiger, and begins to rediscover what life truly means, all while her family tries to piece themselves back together.
Everyone deals with grief in their own way, but I feel as though Davey's thoughts and actions during the book, particularly in the beginning before the move, are spot on and extremely relatable for kids. She begins to fear everything everywhere, wondering what kind of criminal could be waiting around the corner to shoot her, and even keeps a bread knife under her pillow. She also takes moments to think about her father and to contemplate what death would be like (although, not in a suicidal way). Her younger brother, Jason, deals with his grief with a sort of "protective" charm -- he begins to wear a Dracula cape everywhere he goes.
Davey loves her family, but she begins to fear and dislike her uncle (because he helps make weapons) and she thinks her aunt is out of touch (mostly because her aunt wants her to do things she doesn't want to do). I find this to be pretty typical of teen behavior, the whole "woe-is-me, you-just-don't-get-it" scenario, but at the same time her aunt and uncle are very narrowminded, so I found both parties to be in the wrong (although Davey gets more of a pass in her behavior than the adults). Her mother also shuts down as she begins to have terrible migraines as a result of her depression and anxiety from her husband's death. Davey has a lot of anger towards her mother when this happens, but she begins to realize that she shouldn't be angry at her mom for behaving this way, when Davey behaved the same immediately after her father's death. Ultimately, Davey and her mother learn to move past the tragedy and reconstruct their relationship in a very honest and powerful way. Davey makes mistakes and is far from perfect, but that also shows her honesty as a character (nobody's perfect!) and the journey of her growth.
Davey's friendship with Wolf is a welcome addition to the story. It's nice to see Davey relate to someone and be able to open up about what happened to someone who understands, even if he wasn't there. I do not care for the "insta-love" that sort of happens (Davey dreams of him and writes their names together after knowing him less than a week), but it isn't as intense or ridiculous as seen in a lot of young adult novels nowadays. Plus, many teens feel that way in real life -- they tend to fall hard and fast -- so while I don't care for it, it's more relatable that way. It's also nice that while Davey is obviously attracted to him, the story focuses on how their friendship builds, and how their stories intertwine, rather than the attraction. I was afraid Wolf's role was going to be solely as a love interest, so I was pleased when it turns out he has his own secrets that, when revealed, end up helping Davey with her problems.
The whole process of Davey's healing (and her family's) is wonderful to read. I liked how Blume used Davey's aunt and uncle's fear of things as a way to show Davey that she can't give in to her fear. Yes, sometimes bad things happen, but that shouldn't stop you from living life the way you want to.
Along with grief, friendship, and family issues, the book also deals with drinking, relationships and sex, cancer and dying, and racism. Blume was never one to shy away from pushing the envelope, and this book is no different (although I wouldn't have minded eliminating the one-time casual use of the word "faggy"). I also enjoyed how Blume doesn't condemn nor approves of the "racy" things in the story. She writes teen sex and relationships, underage alcoholism, and swearing in a realistic manner without judgment, allowing the reader to take in the story as they wish.
The book does make dated references, including celebrities that I've never heard of before (and had to look up, since I was born mid-80's) and a mention of using the card catalogue (hah!), but I think the book overall is still one that many teens will enjoy and relate to. I do think some teens will not enjoy the loose ends of the book, however, as not everything is resolved or wrapped up neatly. I want a sequel! But the main idea of the story is resolved and readers can rest knowing that Davey is moving forward with her life.
A movie was made in 2012 as well, but I have yet to watch it...but as with most novels-turned-into-film, I doubt it will be as good as the book. :)
Have you read this book before, Jill? What is everyone's favorite Blume book?
Join us in our Buckeye Book Award Reading Challenge! Next up -- 1984!