Today on the blog, I am starting a new feature called The Books that Built the Blogger.
I follow a great number of blogs and am always struck by the different styles and genres of books that people read. It started me wondering how we come to be the readers we are today. What books were key in influencing and signposting us to further reading?
This is not necessarily about favourite books, it is more about the books that have had an effect on us as readers, books that opened up genres, introduced new authors, or brought about new ways of thinking.
I sometimes like to say that if I hadn’t read the ‘Adventure’ series by Enid Blyton as a child I wouldn’t be a fan of crime writing today. That may be a little simplistic, but I think it has a kernel of truth. For me, books don’t exist on their own, they open up my mind to new ideas, new writers and new worlds and there are specific books that I know changed my reading habits and made me the reader I am today.
So, every Sunday, I am going to talk a bit about a book that has built me as a reader and a blogger and then I have invited some of my favourite bloggers to talk about the books that have built them and I’ll explore their lists on a Monday.
To kick off my list of influential books, I’m going to talk about Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume.
“You have sad eyes, Tiger,” he says. “A bright smile but sad eyes.”
When I was young (long, long ago!) YA didn’t exist in the manner it does today. Basically, there were children’s books, then the Sweet Dreams series, then adult books. I can remember visiting the local library with my Dad and realising that I had pretty much read everything in the children’s section and not having a clue where to start in the main part of the library.
Looking back now I can see that Judy Blume was writing Young Adult fiction, but to me, she was just writing really great books, books that made me realise that there was a world of literature out there beyond the romances and school set dramas of Sweet Valley High. Between the ages of 11 to 14, I read all of Judy Blume’s books. From the humour of Starring Sally J Friedman as Herself through to the eye-opening Forever, her books were my constant companions.
It was Tiger Eyes though that had the greatest influence on me and gave me my first taste of the pleasures of good characterisation, open-ended narratives and multi-layered plots.
Tiger Eyes follows Davey, who is just fifteen years old when her father is murdered during a robbery at their family store in Atlanta. Unable to cope, her mother moves the family to stay with her Aunt and Uncle in Los Alamos. Uprooted, alone and with no adult support, Davey is unable to face the trauma she has experienced and is befriended by a boy named Wolf, who is also dealing with his own family problems.
Tiger Eyes, at first glance, is a typical coming-of –age story. There is the outsider trying to settle into a new environment, a tentative romance and the cathartic power of self-awareness. However, Tiger Eyes was a revelation to me for several reasons. Firstly, the themes of loss and grief are beautifully examined. Nothing here feels forced or shoe-horned in, there is an organic nature to way in which Judy Blume marries theme and plot.
Secondly, I don’t think I had read a book prior to this that so convincingly placed itself inside the head of one character. Not that there aren’t a great range of characters here – from Jane, Davey’s friend who has a reliance on alcohol to the mysterious love-interest Wolf – but Blume is clever enough never to take the focus away from Davey, as the reader explores her attempts to make sense of the world, when the foundations of that world have crumbled beneath her.
What also struck me when I read Tiger Eyes was the importance of a sense of place. The wide open desert spaces of Los Alamos echo Davey’s feelings that she has nowhere to hide, that she is vulnerable and open with nothing to anchor herself to.
In some ways, Tiger Eyes was the first character led, quiet novel I had read. There is no big moment of catharsis here. There is romance, but it is never the focus and the ending is far from resolved. There is, instead, a quiet understanding and a belief that even the worst pain can be surmounted.
Some changes happen deep down inside of you. And the truth is, only you know about them. Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Davey stayed with me for a long time. I admired her strength, her intelligence and her willingness to stand on her own and not rely on parents, friends or a boyfriend. Along with Deenie, Blume’s other novel about a teenage girl overcoming a traumatic experience, Tiger Eyes showed me that there was more to literature than good plots and happy endings and that is something to be grateful for!
Are there any other Judy Blume fans out there? I’d love to hear if her work had the same effect on you.
If you would like to take part in The Books that Built the Blogger, do drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org