It’s Not the End of the World by Judy Blume
originally published 1972
Atheneum Books, 25th printing, 2001
Jacket copy: Karen couldn’t tell Mrs Singer why she had to have her Viking diorama out of the sixth-grade showcase. She felt like yelling, To keep my parents from getting divorced. But she couldn’t say it, and the whole class was looking at her anyway.
Karen’s world was ending. Her father had moved out of the house weeks before; now he was going to Las Vegas to get divorced and her mother was pleased! She had only a few days to get the two of them together in the same room. Maybe, if she could, they would just forget about the divorce. Then the Newman family could be its old self again–maybe. But Karen knew something she didn’t know last winter: that sometimes people who shouldn’t be apart are impossible together.
So she felt like yelling at Mrs Singer. And then Mrs Singer did something surprising …
Book Report: What a difference a generation makes. When Judy Blume first published It’s Not the End of the World, the world was a very different place, and divorce was not unheard of, but still unusual. Second wave feminism had hit, and starting in the late Sixties, the no-fault divorce revolution was causing sweeping changes in American families. To me growing up in the Eighties, divorce was no big deal–my parents had been divorced throughout my entire conscious life, and lots of my peers had divorced parents. But for Karen, it’s a very BFD indeed, the biggest one she’s faced. I’m sure it was very helpful reading for lots of kids back in the day–and that it still is–though my monstrous and savage little self would have wondered what all the fuss was about. So while I intellectually understood that it’s a big deal for some people to go through a divorce, my understanding has been tempered by what I read, including Blume’s treatment of the matter in INtEotW and other novels, especially Just as Long as We’re Together.
Certainly, it all rings true, especially Karen’s multiple plans for keeping her parents together (and their spectacular failures). After all, who actually ever managed to pull off a Parent Trap? In real life, even Hayley Mills couldn’t have done it. And we’re right there with Karen during all of it as she witnesses the final days of her parents’ marriage, like we came over after school, and were embarrassed by one of their spats. My favorite moment, though, was when Karen just flips out and starts screaming. Sometimes, you’re just so powerless and fed up, and you have no way left to express what you’re feeling because no one will listen, and if they did, they just patronize you. Let it all out, girl.
It’s pretty standard Blume, and so very good, though perhaps a bit less complex than some of her later books featuring pubescent protagonists. One of my favorite things about it is how it’s kind of a time capsule for the Seventies; I could so easily envision Karen’s house as one of the split levels my friends and I grew up in, with all that weird late Sixties/Seventies design and architecture. (I clearly saw in a mind’s eye a sunken living room, bizarre wrought iron trim INSIDE the house, shag carpet, lots of asymmetrical windows, and plenty of harvest gold, avocado, bronze, and burnt orange.) With my relentless habit of using juvanalia as primary source documents, it would make a great addition to a curriculum on American family history in the twentieth century.
I don’t know what they started yelling about then but I couldn’t stand it any more so I put my hands over my ears and I started to scream. And I screamed and I screamed and I screamed, without stopping to take a breath. I saw Aunt Ruth and Uncle Dan and Amy and my mother and my father, just standing there like idiots, watching me scream, but still I didn’t stop. I kept on screaming … until Daddy slapped me across the face.
And then I cried.