Judy Blume's Deenie
Book review by Monica Friedman
It’s strange how some novels feel dated a few years after their publication and others are completely fresh and accessible forty years later. Judy Blume's Deenie is such a novel.
While original readers probably envisioned the eponymous character in bell bottoms and feathered hair, a recent reprint shows her in a tank top and earbuds, and there’s nothing in the story, except for the prices, to indicate that Deenie, were she a real person, would be old enough to have grandchildren at this point.
Deenie’s curse in life, to start, is that she is remarkably beautiful.
She tolerates this well enough—she’s only in seventh grade—except that her mother is obsessed with Deenie’s face, believing that there must be a reason she was born so pretty, and that reason is that she is destined to be a supermodel.
Deenie isn’t terribly interested in modeling and would much rather hang out with her best friends, Midge and Janet, following boys they like around department stores.
Despite her captivating appearance, Deenie can’t get modeling work because there’s something off about her posture.
Her mother insists that Deenie slouches on purpose, but Deenie is an obedient kid. She’s trying really hard to live up to expectations. It’s only when Deenie also fails to get on the cheerleading squad that the real issue is revealed.
The gym teacher sends her to the doctor and the doctor sends her to a specialist and the specialist sends her to another specialist, because Deenie has scoliosis, a deformity of the spine.
Having any sort of disability is bad enough—she can’t help but compare herself to the girl who got hit by a car and went from normal kid to special ed, or the girl with really bad eczema—but the real tragedy comes when she learns about her treatment options.
For the next four years, Deenie will have to wear a large, immobile, and highly visible back brace twenty-three hours a day. Her life is ruined.
Judy Blume's Deenie - Review
It’s such an honest novel. It’s refreshing to follow Deenie’s train of thought as she deals with her situation. And Deenie is an honest narrator.
This book has been the target of multiple censorship attempts because Deenie has discovered that one way to diffuse tension in the body is to touch herself before bed.
Later, when she anonymously asks the gym teacher if this is all right, the entire seventh grade girls’ gym class is told, “It’s normal and harmless to masturbate.” For a certain class of Americans, this is apparently a dangerous piece of information that must be kept from the nation’s youth at all costs.
For the rest of us, those who believe that people of all ages should have appropriate autonomy over their bodies, Deenie is a wonderful and believable novel.
It doesn’t just tell us that it’s OK to masturbate. It also contains other dangerous ideas, such as that it’s OK for adolescents to tell their parents that they’re wrong about things, and that kids should be encouraged to make their own decisions in life rather than follow some path determined by others.
Deenie, by the end of the book, makes all the right decisions, and, in standing up for herself, manages to create healthier relationships with everyone around her.
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