It’s Not The End Of The World By Judy Blume

I’m not sure if any of Judy Blume’s work exactly qualifies as a “lost classic”: the author’s 40+ years of work in the YA field seems as popular and relevant as ever. This is the one volume that doesn’t quite have the reputation as the rest of her work (and when I checked her bibliography, the only one I had never read). Published in 1972, the passing of 40 years has perhaps rendered the subject too prosaic to be controversial…

It's Not The End Of The World


The Plot: …Or perhaps this is just not one of Blume’s stronger works.

12 year old Karen Newman’s parents announce their intention to divorce; this comes as a complete surprise to Karen and her younger sister Amy, although her 14 year old brother Jeff has suspected that something’s been up for awhile. Remember how last week Mom threw a cake at Dad when he was whining about it having mocha frosting instead of chocolate? Karen recalls:

Later when nobody was looking, I snitched a piece of cake off the floor. Even though it had fallen apart it was still delicious.

Karen keeps track of her parents’ fights in her diary, assigning blame using a secret code and giving each day a grade: “Practically every day this month has gotten a C”.

In addition to her parents separating, Karen has to deal with the other changes involved with growing up, including the fact that her life-long best friend, Debbie, has been enrolled in an exhaustive slate of after-school activities to make her “well rounded” for college; and when Debbie does visit she’s more interested in the moody and withdrawn Jeff than playing Barbies with Karen.

For a story narrated from a 12 year old’s point of view, it is ironic that the most interesting characters are not the children, but the deeply flawed adult characters who really seem to struggle with acting appropriately. While the Newmans’ divorce is largely amicable (the reason given is that they married too young and just don’t get along anymore), the other adults are constantly interjecting themselves into the situation. This includes Mrs. Newman’s bossy sister Ruth, who informs the children that she never did like their father, and their paternal Grandfather, Garfa, who flies in from Las Vegas to try to gulit them into reconciliation:

“Well, Ellie, there hasn’t even been a divorce in our family. Not even way back. When the Newmans get married they get married for keeps. Or until one of them dies.”

Unsuccessful, he then tells Karen that she should try to straighten them out and to report back to him on her efforts.

Mr. Newman moves out of the family home and into the local Howard Johnsons, where he takes his children for weekly dinners at the hotel bar, where he can have a martini with the Early Bird specials. Later he moves into a sad bachelor apartment and Karen makes friends with the girl who lives downstairs, a worldly 7th grader named Val who reads the entire New York Times every Sunday.

Val (if this were a movie she’d be played by Jodie Foster) shows Karen the ropes of being a child of divorce, including introducing her to The Boys and Girls Book about Divorce By Richard A. Gardner, M.D. which is apparently filled with horrifying facts about how your parents don’t love you any more:

Fathers who live close by but do not visit and fathers who live far away and hardly ever call or write either do not love their children at all, or the love them very little.

There is something very wrong with an unloving parent. He deserves pity as well as anger.

Val plans on becoming a scientist when she grows up and making a great discovery so her “drunken runaround” father will want everyone to know that she’s his daughter and Val can in turn snub him.

Karen still plots to get her parents back together, including a truly excruciating scene where she sends them separate cards on their wedding anniversary. In the meantime, Mrs. Newman has enrolled in a secretarial course and taken a temporary job at an insurance company, while Jeff has discovered that he can rebel as much as he wants and there isn’t really anything his mother can do about it. He starts eating all of his meals in front of the TV and at one point stays out all night.

After an argument over fried shrimp at HoJo’s one evening, Jeff runs away from home. Karen hopes that this will cause her parents to see the error of their ways and reunite, but it just causes more stress and propensity towards smashing things. The police sergeant assigned to the case isn’t very reassuring, either:

“Well… these kids usually head for New York. We’ll see what we can do.”

Jeff comes home on his own three days later, and nobody asks any questions about where he has been. Mr. Newman flies to Las Vegas for a quickie divorce, and Mrs. Newman announces that they are going to move to California or Florida so she can decide what she wants to do with her life.

Ugh. Parents have the worst ideas.

Sign It Was Written in 1972 Department: When Mrs. Newman announces that she’s going to get a job, Karen worries that she’s going to become a cocktail waitress like the divorced women on TV:

Imagine my mother dressed in a skimpy costume! Suppose Debbie comes over while she’s getting into her waitress clothes. Debbie will say “Why s your mother dressed up like a Bunny?”

Good Advice Department: “If I was ever going to be a Girl Scout leader I would think up interesting activities for my group to do. And if they made a lot of noise I wouldn’t yell that they give me a headache.”

Read It In The New York Times Department: “Val told me that women getting divorces always fall for their lawyers.”

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18 Responses to It’s Not The End Of The World By Judy Blume

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  2. grace says:

    I think this is one of the only Judy Blume books I’ve actually read. I didn’t read very many of hers. Honestly, I make enough of my own anxiety and didn’t need books that gave me more!

    • mondomolly says:

      On one hand I really appreciate that Judy Blume doesn’t dumb things down for her readers (I’m not the only one who had to look up “bordello”, “Esther Williams” and “sitting shiva” after reading Starring Sally J. Freeman as Herself!), but, yeah, I also remember being pretty disturbed as a child that there was no adult punishment or karmic retribution for the bullies in Blubber or the racist neighbors in Iggie’s House.

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  4. I would give a great deal to know where Jeff was and what he was doing during the time he was missing. I understand why we’re not told, but I still wonder. I can see Karen still wondering years later, and hopefully getting an answer. Also, the scene where Jeff’s girlfriend asks and Karen has to pile lie upon obvious lie is excruciating. I hate when parents order their kid not to talk about something without offering a plausible cover story.

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  6. “While the Newmans’ divorce is largely amicable (the reason given is that they married too young and just don’t get along anymore)”

    There’s another reason, though, that’s not spelled out. Karen traces the dysfunction back “six or seven years” which, coincidentally, is when Amy was born. Karen’s interpretation is that “Daddy chose her as his favorite. Mom got mad that he picked a favorite and made Jeff *her* favorite.” My take on it is this: Six years earlier, Karen was in the first grade, and mom had had plans to go either back to school or to work as soon as both kids were in school full time. Except, she got pregnant again, and that plan was shot. Dad was over the moon to have another kid to dote on, especially now that he was financially more stable than he’d been with the first two. Mom was doubly resentful, first about being stuck at home for another diaper stint, secondly of dad for getting to be the fun parent while she was the drudge. Happened a lot pre-1980s. Nowadays, of course, the economy being what it is, most couples take for granted that the wife will work, kids or no kids, unless they want to be poor and stay poor.

    And there’s also the matter of Aunt Ruth. Nasty as the final conflict was, I did have to give props to dad for finally saying it: “You never grew up. You’re still Ruth’s baby!” I have a sister who’s about that much older than I, and she would love to dominate me that way. Luckily she never got/I never gave her the chance. But I ground my teeth when Karen said, after the divorce announcement when she runs out of the restaurant in tears, “She has a way of not listening to anything she doesn’t want to hear.” That’s effective in the short run, but not in the long. And it’s especially galling when you figure the restaurant was most likely Ruth’s idea! “Tell them in public; they won’t want to make a scene.” It really comes off like Karen doesn’t have a right to be upset *at all*. So I was satisfied with the ending, when mom makes plans to move. Her life, and the kids’ lives, will improve by orders of magnitude once they get away from Aunt Kommandant.

    (As for mom having Jeff for her favorite, that could be cultural, Freudian, or who knows what. Might or might not be connected with dad.)

    • mondomolly says:

      Good catch! Part of the reasons why I find this book so interesting is that it is told so closely from Karen’s point of view, you get a very narrow focus and understanding of the bigger events.

      Have you read any of Bume’s adult novels? I sort of feel like Wifey is unjustly maligned as being too off-the-wall, but it deals with a lot of the same issues from the wife’s perspective.

    • Jennifer Schillig says:

      And I thought I was the only one who’d come to that conclusion! (About Ellie being tied down again by a baby just when her older two were starting school, that is.) It’s interesting to go back to books you read as a kid and understand the stuff that was hidden between the lines, the stuff you didn’t get when you were younger. Another one for me (bordering on Fridge Horror) was the fact that Jeff’s reaction to everything is to snap and lash out in anger. Now, some of this can be put down to normal teenage moodiness (compounded by the family problems), but at the beginning of the book, Jeff yells and curses at his SIX-YEAR-OLD SISTER for spilling her milk and getting Mom upset (of course, Mom was upset over more than that) and ruining dinner. At a six-year-old, for an accident. And when I was rereading this, I realized…if the Newmans have been having problems for six or seven years, that’s probably the kind of behavior Jeff’s had modeled for him for all of his childhood…anger, lashing out, passive-agressiveness.

  7. Susan says:

    A contestant on Jeopardy just said his aunt is Judy Blume! I wonder if she will be in any of the answers today 🙂 .

    • mondomolly says:

      Cool! I still haven’t seen the movie they made of Tiger Eyes, which was written by Judy and directed by her son. I remember it got pretty good reviews, but didn’t really geta wide release.

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