Thanks to Goodreads for the image!
This isn’t the greatest Judy Blume book, for sure. (Obviously that is either Forever… or Tiger Eyes), but it isn’t the worst either (I’m looking at you, Blubber!) It honestly is just kind of….meh. I’m sure in 1972, at the beginning of the divorce bonanza in this country, it was probably kind of ground breaking or had more meaning or whatever. But now it’s like, “girl’s parents get divorced. She gets sad and thinks she can trick them into getting back together. Teenage brother has trouble dealing. Things work out OK in the end.”
Told from the POV of 12 year old Karen Newman. Karen is a pretty plain, average girl. She has a 14 year old brother, Jeff and a six year old sister, Amy. Her parents have been fighting a lot lately, and in fact, the book opens on a doozy. Karen is scared they’re going to get divorced. And sure enough, just a few chapters in, her parents make the big announcement. Her dad moves out. Karen has difficulties coping and major denial. Jeff becomes an out of control teenager, even running away from home at one point. Amy becomes clingy and sad.
In the middle of all this, Karen leans on her best friend, Debbie. But her dad moves to an apartment complex and he has a neighbor with a daughter Karen’s age, Val. Karen befriends Val, whose parents are also divorced. Val is a bit of a know-it-all, but seems to be a pretty big comfort to Karen.
Karen thinks she can try to get her parents back together, but obviously it doesn’t work. When Jeff runs away, her dad comes to the house, acts like a real dick to the mom, sending Karen into literal hysterics. Karen realizes they aren’t getting back together. I’d say duh, but she’s only twelve and that’s kinda mean, even for me. At the end of the book, mom says she has to sell the house and it’s up in the air where they’re going to move.
- Karen keeps a journal, where she writes a bit each day about what happened that day. Then she grades each day, from F to A+. She also assigns blame for each of her parents’ fights. If she went back and looked at how much they fought, maybe she wouldn’t have convinced herself she’d be able to get them back together.
- So, remember how in Just as Long as We’re Together, Stephanie’s parents didn’t bother to tell her that they were getting separated? Well, at least in this book, the mom told the kids right away. Sure, it should be both parents telling the kids together, but yanno, in 1972, there weren’t 1,000,000’s of studies done about the ‘correct’ way to get divorced and the best way to handle it with the kids. So I’ll give Karen’s parents a pass on this one.
- At one point, Karen is upset, and her Aunt Ruth (mom’s sister) says something like, “remember, this is harder on your mother than it is on you.” Um, Really? Fucking Ruth, you’re an idiot. Mom has probably realized for years that her marriage was falling apart. I think it’s probably worse on the kids.
- Val tells Karen it’s bad that she’s a middle child. She’ll have more problems than Jeff and Amy. *shrugs* I don’t know about that. I’m a middle (third child of five) child. I wouldn’t say that I have “problems.” But….um, yeah. Long story short. I totally sympathize with the Jan Brady syndrome.
- Mom decides to get a job and go back to school. And ZOMG, you’d think the world was coming to a fucking end. Jeff was fucking pissed off, he threatened to go live with Dad. Karen was all confused, like why would you want to do that? Aunt Ruth and her husband, Uncle Dan were all nebby about it, “The children need you at home,” and “I wish you’d rethink this. Can you handle the responsibility of running the house and keeping a job?” Wow. I mean, all I can say is fucking thank GOD I grew up when I did, and not back in those dark ages. Holy shit, how far have we come?
- Karen goes to sleep over at Val’s house. It’s such a bizarre scene, because it’s Saturday night and Val asks if she can wash Karen’s hair. Karen is all, “No, I just washed it on Monday.” Um….what? She doesn’t shower and wash her hair on at least an every-other-day basis? Am I the only one a little bit grossed out by that? Is this a generational difference? Did adolescents in the 70s really only wash their hair once a week? Cause I was probably eleven (1988) when I first read this, and I totally remember thinking that was gross even then.
- Yeah, also, Karen and Val bathe together. Which seems pretty odd to me for twelve and thirteen year old girls to be doing. Once again, generational difference? And once again, reading it as an eleven year old, I thought it was way strange.
- At the end, when mom says that they have to sell the house, she isn’t sure where they’re moving. Maybe somewhere warm, like Florida or California. Karen suggest Houston (a boy from her class moved there), and her mom is all, “Oh God, no. No Texas. No way.” Kind of insulting to Texans. (But you know, the rest of us don’t really give a shit if your state is “Bigger ‘n France.) Oh, but parenting points off for Karen’s mom for even considering such a huge change so soon after a divorce. Not to mention it would be taking them too far away from their father. And just because you hate him, doesn’t mean your kids do.
- Like I said, book was OK. Not great, not cringe-worthy. But the style was classic Blume.