There’s something about Judy Blume’s novels that resonate emotionally with readers. In fact, Blume herself reports keeping a box of tissues handy when she does signings, just in case a reader should need one. Longtime fans of Blume will soon get the chance to see if that resonance transfers to the big screen. Tiger Eyes, originally published in 1981 by Bradbury Press, is the first of Blume’s books to be adapted into a feature-length movie. The film, which releases on June 7 in a small number of theaters across the U.S. and simultaneously on VOD, stars Willa Holland, Amy Jo Johnson, and Tatanka Means.
For an author as prolific as Blume and at a time when movie rights to YA novels are sometimes sold long before readers can even get their hands on the books, it’s a bit puzzling that it’s taken so long for a Blume movie adaptation to happen. Blume has admitted that much of the reason is due to her desire to maintain creative control over her stories. Despite Blume’s reluctance, it was something she had hoped to do eventually, as long as it was under the right circumstances. She left it up to her son, Lawrence (who has confessed to being the model for Blume’s Fudge books) to decide which of her books would make the transition to screen. Not only did he pick the book, but he collaborated with Blume on the screenplay for Tiger Eyes and also took the director’s helm. (For a PW story that speaks with both Blumes about the project, click here.)
Tiger Eyes, Blume’s 1981 novel about a girl named Davey who moves with her mother to New Mexico following the violent death of her father in a hold-up, had always been Lawrence’s favorite of his mother’s books, so there was little question that it was the one he’d choose. The 1981 book had had a strong impact on Lawrence. Following Blume’s divorce from Lawrence’s father, Blume remarried and the family relocated to New Mexico. “The divorce was hard and what brought us to New Mexico was a guy.... There was the good, the bad, the evil, and the ugly,” said Blume during a recent interview. Blume began writing the book after the marriage ended; Lawrence first read it when he was in college and saw the parallels between his experience and Davey’s. “It affected me deeply,” he said.
An Opportune Moment
Tiger Eyes, with its character-based examination of a girl in the throes of grief, is a far cry from a dystopian blockbuster. But despite the prevalence of YA dystopian and paranormal film adaptations, recent industry buzz suggests that it may be just the right time for Tiger Eyes, after all. As evidenced at this year’s Bologna Book Fair many agents and publishers are favoring more realistic, contemporary YA fiction over paranormal and dystopian books. Of course, contemporary YA fiction that deals with navigating adolescence, sans the supernatural, has always been available. But recent ventures in realistic fiction, including John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park, and Sara Zarr’s The Lucy Variations (to name a few) might also suggest a more definitive shift.
Like adolescence itself, the path from page to screen was not without its hurdles, and timing for the movie didn’t go exactly according to plan. It took only 23 days in 2010 to shoot the film, under a budget of $3 million. But once the film was completed, the deal with Amber Entertainment dissolved, leaving the Blumes struggling to gain control of the movie and to find a distributor to champion the project. In January of this year, they landed a deal with independent film studio Freestyle, and set their eyes on a U.S. release in at least 20 theaters. The film’s Facebook page currently features a growing list of cities where the movie will be playing.
A Classic Character Transformed
Despite the film’s limited release, hopes are high that nostalgic readers will want to see a familiar character from their childhoods represented on screen. As Blume recently told PW, “My dream is [for there to be] a lot of Tiger Eyes parties on June 7 where a dozen women and their daughters or their sisters or their mothers all get together to watch it.”
Tiger Eyes isn’t as well-known as Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970) or nearly as controversial as Blume’s Forever (1975). But it has maintained a steady readership over the years. And with publishing rights changing hands on several occasions, the book’s cover art has changed as well. One thing has remained constant: an image of Davey’s face appears on the majority of the jacket art, whether photographic or illustrated, emphasizing the character-centered nature of the novel. On June 11, Delacorte will release a tie-in edition with a still photo of Holland as Davey gracing the cover. The tie-in will include behind-the-scenes photographs and a 32-page supplement written by Blume.
Like many classic YA novels, readers are likely to be most attached to the jacket art on the copy that they first read. And with Blume’s novels having sold more than 82 million copies worldwide, it’s a wonder to imagine all of the places that those creased and cried-on copies have traveled. One place they have been for certain – 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. During a March 1 interview with Blume on Rock Center, Chelsea Clinton (who is a special news correspondent for NBC) told Blume that she grew up reading her books, and that Blume’s characters enabled her and her friends to safely explore their own emotions and experiences (though, of course, none of Blume’s heroines actually lived in the White House).
When Clinton asked Blume how she is able to “so authentically inhabit an adolescent girl’s experience,” Blume responded with: “Well, scratch the surface and I’m 12 years old still!” Age 12, she said, was around the time that she began writing, and so she connects specifically with that time period in a girl’s emotional and psychological development.
When it came to Tiger Eyes, Blume was openly emotional during the TV interview, crying as she described how Davey struggles to accept the loss of her father, while recognizing that he would want her to move on and live her life fully (Blume lost her own father when she was 21). Clinton also spoke with Lawrence Blume, who described Tiger Eyes as being “about discovery. Really it’s a story of a girl who goes on the first great adventure of her life.”