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Literature / Tiger Eyes

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Tiger Eyes is a young adult novel by Judy Blume, first published in 1981.

The 15-year-old protagonist, Davey Wexler, struggles to cope after her beloved father Adam is killed during a robbery. Her mother Gwen decides they need to get away for a while, and she moves Davey and her little brother Jason from their native New Jersey to New Mexico to stay with Adam's sister and her husband.

In 2012, a film adaptation of the same name was produced, directed by the author's son Lawrence Blume and starring Willa Holland as Davey.

This novel contains examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Davey's friend Jane. She's even frequently drunk in school.
  • Berserk Button: For Davey, it's when Walter dares to demean her father, implying that he was less of a man because he didn't complete his education and "lowered" himself to running a convenience store, and then goes on to badmouth her mother for being a teenage mother with no job at age 34. Davey goes into a blind rage and begins beating on Walter's chest, which earns her a slap across the face.
  • Child Marriage Veto: While attending a support group for widowed spouses, Davey's mother meets a widowed man and starts dating him. Davey absolutely loathes him, mostly because she's insulted at the notion anybody could take her father's place, not to mention if her mother did marry him, they'd have to stay with Walter and Bitsy. Fortunately for Davey, her mother eventually turns the man down.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Tiger Eyes begins not long after Davey's father dies; it's implied throughout the book that she and her father were very close.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: It's eventually revealed that Davey's father, shot during a convenience store robbery, bled to death in her arms while waiting for the ambulance.
  • Due to the Dead: Davey, while doing her Christmas shopping, sees a unique candle that her father would have loved. She buys it and, on her first Christmas without him, lights it in her room and watches it until it melts into nothingness.
    "Merry Christmas, Daddy."
  • Erotic Dream: Davey has several about Wolf over the course of the book.
  • Fainting: A few times after her father's death, before the move to New Mexico, Davey passes out at school, due to panic attacks.
  • Fashion Dissonance: The book is very clearly dated, and this is one of the indications. Davey explicitly mentions items which were fashionable in 1981. Also, for her birthday, her mother's boyfriend gives her a t-shirt imprinted with the phrase A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle. This was a popular expression at the time, but more than thirty years later, it's fallen by the wayside.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Davey. Her first name is actually Davis, which was her mother's brother's name, but everyone calls her Davey. Leads to some confusion when her brother Jason's teacher insists that Davey must be a boy, and directs Jason to write his birthday poem for Davey accordingly.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: "Cuando los lagartijos corren."
  • Hypocrite:
    • Davey sees Walter this way. He claims he doesn't believe in violence, but works for a nuclear weapons facility. He also gets into a fight with her in which he insults her parents, and when she yells back at him, he slaps her.
    • Although Davey herself chafes at the racism she witnesses regarding the Hispanic citizens of Los Alamos, she uses an anti-gay slur during a blow-up at her younger brother, calling his Dracula cape "faggy." This could be due to Values Dissonance given that the book was published in 1981.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Davey with a man who turns out to be Wolf's father.
  • Kick the Dog: Davey's uncle does this when chewing out Davey for her poor report card (which really isn't that bad considering how much school she missed — two Cs, two Bs, and one A). She asserts that her dad said that learning was more important than the grade, and he cuttingly remarks that her father was a second-rate store owner, then goes on to insult Gwen for being "pregnant as a teenager and destitute at 34."
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Bitsy and Walter, Davey's aunt and uncle, were never able to have children and are only too happy to have Bitsy's brother's widow and children come to stay with them. Unfortunately, Bitsy turns into something of a My Beloved Smother and drives Davey absolutely insane with her constant focus on safety, while Walter is a bit of a Drill Sergeant Nasty.
  • Limited Wardrobe: For much of the book, Jason insists on wearing his Dracula cape everywhere. Davey's mother says he'll grow out of it.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Gender flipped. Wolf acts as this for Davey while his own father is dying. He helps her confront her grief.
  • Memento MacGuffin: The dancing bear that Davey enjoys so much in Mr. Ortiz's hospital room is given to her after his death, per his final wishes.
  • No Antagonist: The true conflict in this story is Davey working through her grief and shock to accept the truth of what happened with her father's death and becoming less afraid of what the future holds for her and her family.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: When Davey confronts Jane about her alcoholism, Jane retorts that Davey is a fine one to talk about honesty, given the lie Davey told her about her father's death (she told Jane he died of a heart attack). Davey explains she lied because she wasn't ready to face the facts, and Jane responds that maybe she drinks because she has some trauma in her own life she's not ready to face. We never learn what that trauma is, however.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname:
    • It's only mentioned once that Davey's aunt Bitsy's real name is Elizabeth.
    • Davey and her strange friend in the canyon only ever know each other as Wolf and Tiger (although she does learn Wolf's real name, which is Martin, when she visits his father in the hospital).
  • Parents as People: Davey's mother turns into pretty much a space cadet for most of the novel, unable to function, and transplants Davey and her brother Jason to the opposite side of the country. The three live for most of the story with the dad's sister and her husband, who try to act as substitute parents for the kids, but do so in the most ham-fisted manner possible. In their defense, no matter how willing they are to do it, they've been thrust into the role very abruptly, especially when one of their new charges is a teenager who just witnessed her father's violent death, struggling with what would today be recognized as PTSD.
  • Parent with New Paramour: A friend of Bitsy's called Ned starts dating Davey's mother and Davey fears they'll get serious, as she hates Ned. He does ask Gwen to marry him, but she turns him down.
  • Product Placement: Adam's convenience store is specifically identified as a 7-Eleven.
  • Scary Hispanic Man: While Davey exhibits none of these attitudes, the Anglo inhabitants of Los Alamos have attitudes toward Hispanic males similar to those of Southern whites towards African-Americans during the Jim Crow era. Davey's friend Jane tells her not to make eye contact with any Hispanic male because they're all dying to rape white girls, and Bitsy is apprehensive when she learns that Wolf's last name is Ortiz (and when Davey tells her he works at the lab, Bitsy first assumes he works as a custodian).
  • School Play: Davey gets the female lead of Ado Annie in a production of the musical Oklahoma!.
  • Security Blanket: Davey starts sleeping with a bread knife clutched in her hand in case her father's killers were to return. Later, in the canyon, she buries it under a pyramid of rocks, along with the bloodstained clothes she was wearing the night her father died.
  • Teen Idol: Davey is a very good singer and thinks that this is what she would probably most like to do. In her daydreams she actually goes beyond Teen Idol stature and imagines herself performing in Vegas.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Walter becomes nicer and more understanding after Davey's performance in the play, showing that she definitely has some talent as a performer, as well as being supportive of the family when they decide to go back to New Jersey rather than stay in New Mexico.
  • Trauma Conga Line:
    • The narrative unwinds very slowly to illustrate the events of Davey's father's death. At first, the reader knows only that he has died. Then it's understood that he was shot during a robbery at his store. But it's not until Davey finally starts seeing a therapist about her own role in the events that the reader learns that she held him as he died.
    • When you think about it, Davey's mother is implied to have undergone one before the book opens. Davey remarks that 'Mom has had plenty of experience dealing with death', having lost both her parents and an older brother before Davey was born — she named her firstborn child 'Davis', because there was no one left to carry on the family name. Then remember that Davey was born when her mother was still a teenager, and her behavior detailed in the Parents as People starts to look more like being widowed was the last straw for her emotional stability.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Jane's alcoholism.
    • A lesser example is when Davey and her mother are having dinner at a Mexican restaurant toward the end of the book and the two share a pitcher of sangria, which Davey is allowed to consume even though she is underage (although, unlike Jane, she doesn't drink it to excess, and even remarks to herself how Jane would probably down the whole pitcher in five minutes). This could be considered troubling in that it could signify that, in allowing her daughter to drink, Davey's mother still isn't in any shape to parent note ; in that the restaurant doesn't think to check whether Davey is of age; or both.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Wolf admires "Tiger"'s unusually beautiful eye color, and later gives her a tiger's eye stone.