Deenie is about parental expectations and a child's sense of self-identity, says the writer of the book she wrote 30 years ago.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published January 31, 2004
Author Judy Blume says those people who would restrict access to her novel, Deenie, should talk to the children who might read it before making a final decision.
"Usually, in cases like this, the young readers can be involved. It can be a positive experience for them if there's a teacher or librarian who can talk to them about this," Blume said Friday, after learning that a committee has recommended pulling her book from Hernando County elementary schools.
Most children read right over the mentions of masturbation that prompted the original complaint against Deenie, the author said. Rather, they see that the book is about more than those few passages.
"It's a book about parental expectations. It's a book about if a parent pigeonholes you - this is who you are and who I want you to be - and what happens if you're lucky enough to find out who you want to be," Blume said.
She suggested that it's the adults, not the youngsters, who find something inappropriate about the topics in Deenie.
"I think what happens in a situation like this is, you send out this huge message that there's something in this book that adults don't want you to have," Blume said. "It's always a sad message."
Blume said the Hernando committee members who defended the book got it right. She said they understood correctly her intent to provide information about maturing to children who might otherwise have no such access.
Deenie's sexuality "was a very important part of it, and no one ever talked to her about it. . . . Nor did anyone ever talk to me about it (as an adolescent)," she said. "I didn't have a book to read in advance that said it's a normal and natural part of growing up. I would have felt relieved to know I wasn't the only one. To me, that's what that was all about."
She rejected comments made by committee members that she wrote the book, and many others that have been challenged around the country, to "press buttons."
"That is so untrue I cannot tell you," she said. "I wrote the book 30 years ago, and all of the books I wrote I was writing out of my own knowledge of kids. I never sat there as an adult writing about kids thinking to myself, "Hmmm, let's push these buttons.' . . . It was never, "Let's see how controversial I can be.' "
Rather, she said, she wrote about what she knew kids talk about. Deenie shows, in part, what happens when no one talks to you, Blume said.
Blume acknowledged that Deenie is not the same type of book as Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing or Superfudge. But still, she said she did not believe the district should take away any students' opportunity to read it.
She had no plans to come to Hernando County to defend the book, though.
"I don't really think it's my place," she said. "I think it's up to the readers to do that. I don't feel it's up to the writer."
School Board members will make the ultimate decision whether to let Deenie stay on the elementary school shelves. Some of those reached Friday said they were considering a middle ground.
Vice chairman Jim Malcolm said he liked the idea of having the book available for students who get parental permission.
"I respect the view that perhaps it's age-inappropriate for certain youngsters," he said. "But I don't think we have the right to deny a youngster reading the book if a parent gives them permission to do so."
Board member Robert Wiggins shared that perspective.
"We are to guard what the child may see or not see, but the parent has the ultimate decision," he said.
Board member John Druzbick said he was leaning toward keeping the book out of the elementary schools. So, too, was board member Gail David, although she added that she was more concerned about what children might see on the Internet or at the movies than about what they might read in a book coming from the school district's libraries.