I give this old piece of work...3 whales out of 5.
I heard about this book on TVTropes. Curious, I read reviews about it on Amazon. After that, I went to the library, rented it (the person who looked it up for me actually read it and was very bubbly and enthusiastic about it, as she read Blume's work in the past, so that was a first), read it, and finished it all in one day. Bullying was, and still is, a very hot button issue. But now, bullying in schools, home, and workplaces have gotten so bad and so out of control that the victims even commit suicide. Books about bullying have been around for a very long time, and there's probably more to come. I myself have been picked on for my eccentricities, but never to the extent one of the characters in this book has gone through. Seriously, even though I like it for what it does well, I seriously hate parts of it, mostly for personal reasons, but I'll try to be as objective as possible with this review. It's kinda hard to believe this book was written in the seventies (1974 to be more precise, the same year the anime Heidi: Girl of the Alps began airing on Japanese airwaves for all Heidi lovers to see).
The main character of this book is a girl named Jill Brenner, who just wants to fit in and be popular. After watching an overweight girl named Linda Fischer do a presentation on whales as part of an assignment about mammals, her friend Wendy decides to give her the nickname Blubber, feeling that Linda is fat like a whale. Jill, being the conformist, popularity seeking girl that she is, joins in on Wendy's crusade to make Linda's life miserable, though she isn't as persistent and vicious about it as Wendy and her clique is. Wendy and a good majority of the other kids do horrible things to Linda, from pulling up her skirt to making her lick Wendy's shoe to making her eat a chocolate covered ant. The teachers do nothing to help, and when they try to, the kids lie about it, and they instantly believe what they say. But when Jill decides things have gone too far, she betrays Wendy, and winds up becoming a victim of their treachery instead.
While the book is definitely written for kids in mind with its simplistic and not so overly descriptive style, there's quite a bit of swearing in here. I'm kind of surprised this is considered a children's book in the first place. But then again, it is true to life in that kids in the 5th grade swear, even when they're not supposed to (I don't remember if the kids I spent time with in 5th grade did so back then or not), so it's not a big issue to me, unlike some people who have been turned off by it. The book itself, while nothing special, is still very good in its own right, bringing to light various issues surrounding children and showing that they can be cruel. I was also very surprised with the ending, not because it's somewhat unsatisfying, which is true to life as well, but with a certain twist that nobody saw coming, not even me.
However, I do have some issues with the book. I did get bullied in the past, but the worst I had to endure was six whole years of annoying kids singing the "I Love You" song from Barney at me for some unknown, stupid, and unfathomable reason which I will probably never figure out. Plus, I think I even brought it on myself when I was younger, as I was pretty naive and stupid when I should have known better back then (for example, in the 4th grade I was unable to differentiate fantasy from reality as in never realized cartoons were just drawings on paper and I had a VERY vocal fangirl crush on an anime character. I finally got over it in 6th grade, but I don't think everyone else forgot about it). I'm genuinely surprised at how vicious these girls were in this book, and these are 5th graders! And by vicious, I mean...they do some really horrible things to Linda, like forcing her skirt up to show to pervy boys, making her eat a chocolate covered ant, making her kiss Wendy's shoe, making her say self-deprecating things in order to do stuff...God, the list goes on! I thought viciousness like this was only limited to high schoolers! I personally never went through the stuff Linda did, so I can't relate in that part. It really made me want to step into the book and save her from their treachery...which makes the unfortunate twist at the end even more heartbreaking and infuriating. I won't say what that twist is, because it's a HUGE spoiler. Also, the music teacher. God, that music teacher drove me nuts! Why? While the other teachers, while strict, have good intentions, indifferent to the bullying as they are. This music teacher at one point scolds Linda for not getting an answer right, and...rips out part of her hair! What teacher does that?! Teachers are NOT supposed to do that! Shouldn't that teacher have gotten fired?! Again, there are teachers who go too far and abuse their power, but ripping out strands of an innocent kid's hair just because she got an answer wrong?! That's going too far in itself! If my parents found out a teacher did that to me, they'd sue them and get them fired by any means necessary like they did with two one-to-one assistants (who weren't even real one-to-one assistants trained to help Autistic kids--just a couple of local moms from the neighborhood who were looking to make some quick and easy cash) who abused me in 2nd and 3rd grade!
The characters...are kinda bland to me. While I did like the interactions between them, as that's how real kids interact, I really didn't feel anything for them, nor could I connect with them in any way, not even Linda. Linda even more so considering that twist in the end. While Jill is a well rounded and realistic character, with actual hobbies, a social life, has a decent family she both loves and squabbles with, and easily succumbs to peer pressure like any other kid, I really couldn't relate to her, even as the tables got turned on her, but I don't think the author intended for us to relate to her or root for her at all. She's supposed to be the girl we DON'T want to be: the girl who wants to be popular, who joins in on the bullying, who does absolutely nothing to stop it and instead condones it to fit in, which makes the message of this book even more striking. This'll really stick with a kid more than any sermon or preachiness will. But even as the tables got turned on her, I couldn't relate to her at all. I especially hated Wendy and her clique. I really wanted to see them get punished. Very hard. I want to see them suffer. But we readers are not given that opportunity. One reason I preferred Gamer Girl despite it being slightly worse in quality and writing is that the bullies, unrealistic as they are, actually do get some very satisfying comeuppance even though it was off screen.
I'm seeing a lot of similarities between this and a recent manga called Koe no Katachi (or as Crunchyroll dubbed it, The Silent Voice), as they both have main characters who start off as bullies and then become bullied, groups of bullies who are extremely vicious and cruel to their victims, and the overall lack of adult intervention and involvement. I haven't gotten around to reading Koe no Katachi, but I really want to, based on the good reviews I've read of it. While Blubber isn't the best book in the word, and isn't the most satisfying, it's very good, and it teaches a very good lesson that most kids these days really really REALLY need to learn.