Here's my first Book Report for the Shelf Discovery Challenge hosted by Julie at Booking Mama. I'm so exicited that Booking Mama set forth this challenge because I've decided to use it as an opportunity to both reread old favorites (as Lizzie Skurnick's book is not only about teen classics but also about the art of rereading) and to read some classic YA I somehow missed when I was actually a YA. This first pick falls into the latter category. While I certainly read Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me Margaret, and I'm pretty sure I read Blubber, I never read Deenie, Blume's moving novel about a beautiful young girl named Deenie who learns at the age of 13 that she has scoliosis and will have to wear a brace for the next four years to ensure that her spine grows straight.
I opened the very hiply repackaged edition of Deenie with so much anticipation and fell immediately into Blume's prose. I often find it hard to read a story where I know a tragedy is coming and for the first third or so of the book, where you know where everything is leading, my heart was practically pounding, much as it would when I watched afterschool specials growing up. I knew Deenie would end up being diagnosed with scoliosis, but even still, like Deenie, I kept wishing it would be deemed a mistake.
I'd forgotten how well Blume captures the voice of a teenage girl, and while not written as a diary, it almost felt like I'd opened up Deenie's diary and was reading staight from it. I loved how Blume portrayed Deenie's parents, and indeed, in her essay at the end of the book, she says that, for her, Deenie is a story about parental expectations, about the ways parents slot their children into roles they've predetermined for them. Deenie is the pretty one in the family and her mother is hell-bent on forging her modeling career, though Deenie has no interest in modeling. Deenie's older sister Helen is considered the brain of the family, and their mother really seeks to mold them into who she thinks they are and should be. But even still, they are both such strong young women that each seems capable of moving beyond their mother's plans for them to forge their own destinies. Even while reacting in horror to the brace that she'll now have to wear all day every day (except when swimming), Deenie finds herself dreaming of growing up to be an orthopedist. Though her mother has told her that her worth is in her face and her posture, Deenie can and does see more for herself.
I also loved how Blume portrayed the social morays of high school. The subtle ways in which girls hurt each other; how being left out or included, feels, and the power it holds. While Deenie is a beauty, she's never exactly lorded that over other students, but when she finds herself on the other end of the social spectrum, she begins to understand and empathize not only with Old Lady Murray, the woman with the hunchback; but also with the "Creeping Crud," the girl in her gym class with a pervasive case of eczema.
If I had any quibble with Deenie, it would only be that it was too short. I couldn't believe how quickly it was over, and I wanted to spend more time with her. You are left, however, with the hopeful sense that she is finding her way and will ultimately overcome the challenges ahead. I'm so glad that I finally read it and recommend it highly to teenagers as well as adults.