51 pages 1 hour read

Judy Blume


Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 1974

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Summary and Study Guide

Plot Summary

Judy Blume’s 1974 middle-grade novel Blubber focuses on the complex social dynamics of a fifth-grade class as they begin to mercilessly bully one of the girls among them. The story is told through a first-person narrator, Jill Brenner, as she joins in on the bullying and gets wrapped up in the drama that results from it, learning valuable lessons about people getting what they deserve and about the harm she’s helped facilitate. This novel contains minor cursing, and a racial slur is used several times.

This study guide follows the April 2014 Atheneum Books for Young Readers paperback edition.

Plot Summary

While Jill Brenner’s fifth-grade class presents reports on mammals, Wendy, who is in several positions of power over her peers, passes around a note making fun of the girl presenting, Linda. Linda is reciting her report on whales, so Wendy decides that Blubber will be a great nickname for Linda. The note travels through the class quickly, causing an eruption of laughter. On the bus later, Wendy calls Linda “Blubber,” setting off a chain of bullying that involves chanting, playing keep-away, and spitballs. Jill observes all of this, but because she’s friends with Wendy, she plays along with everyone else.

After school, Jill decides she’ll be a flenser for Halloween. She learned about flensers from Linda’s report on whales. Flensers strip the blubber off whales. The next day, Jill makes her costume out of clothes around the house. She meets up with her best friend, Tracy, before school. Both wear their costumes so they can participate in the school’s Halloween event, where everyone’s costumes will be put on display. The most original and most beautiful costumes get prizes. At school, Wendy is dressed as a queen. Many kids are dressed like bums. Jill thinks she’ll win the most original costume award. As they head to the auditorium, Linda asks about Jill’s costume, but Jill doesn’t answer. Linda is dressed in a red cape but doesn’t tell what she’s supposed to be. Wendy and Jill make fun of Linda. Jill doesn’t win any prizes.

Afterward, Wendy, Jill, and Wendy’s best friend Caroline corner Linda in the bathroom, forcibly stripping her of her cape, making fun of her underwear, and forcing Linda to curtsy to Wendy and kiss Wendy’s foot. They make a crying Linda promise not to tell anyone what they did.

That night, as Jill and Tracy trick or treat, they put rotten eggs in the mailbox of a mean older man, Mr. Machinist, saying he deserves it. They’ve concealed their faces with pillowcases so they won’t get caught. They also vandalize Linda’s house with Silly String, toilet paper, and chalk. Wendy and Caroline join them, demanding they prove their identities by removing their pillowcases. After proving themselves, Jill and Tracy show Wendy and Caroline what they did to Mr. Machinist’s mailbox. Mr. Machinist jumps out and catches the girls, snapping a photo and turning the hose on them.

The next day is music class, and Jill gets in trouble with the music teacher for giving a rude response to her question. Jill blames Linda because Linda passed gas, causing Jill to smile and draw the teacher’s attention. While the class is mostly unsupervised during lunch, Wendy, Caroline, and Jill make fun of Linda’s weight and lunch, stealing her cupcakes and playing with her apple. The class gets out of hand goofing around, but when their teacher comes back, only Linda gets in trouble because her apple ended up on the floor.

After the weekend, at lunch on Monday, Linda has healthy food instead and not very much of it. Still, Wendy forces Linda to call herself Blubber and say that she’ll always be called Blubber even if she loses weight. Linda’s eyes well up. That night, Jill talks to her mom about the situation but doesn’t let on that she’s involved in the bullying. Jill’s mom asks her to put herself in Linda’s shoes. Jill says that will never happen, but her mom tells her not to be too sure.

On Wednesday, the fifth graders must sing for the school during an assembly. The theme is lullabies. Wendy tells everyone that only Linda will sing the word “breast” during one of the lines. On cue, no one says “breast” except Linda, who sings it loud and clear. The auditorium erupts with laughter, and Linda is very embarrassed. The music teacher makes everyone except Linda stay after school the next day for punishment.

The bullying of Linda continues, with Wendy and Caroline making a list of different ways to mess with her, including tripping her and forcing her to call herself “Blubber, the smelly whale.” In gym class, Jill kicks a ball into Linda’s stomach and must walk Linda to the nurse. Linda asks why Jill and her friends pick on her. Jill denies that they do. The next day, the fifth graders must get weighed by the nurse. Jill is told to eat more and try to gain five pounds, while Linda is told to try to lose weight. During recess, the kids make up a jump rope chant about Linda being fat and on a diet.

On the bus home, Wendy tells Jill and Tracy that Mr. Machinist has a photo of them that he’s showing to everyone in the neighborhood, trying to find out their identities. Wendy and Caroline tell them that no one has told on them. Jill feels happy to have Wendy as a friend. Later, Tracy calls Jill to tell her that she hasn’t heard from Mr. Machinist. Both girls express concern about being found out.

Wendy, Caroline, and Jill continue to bully Linda using Wendy's list. Linda begins to call herself a smelly whale without prompting. They force Linda to kiss a boy in the class. They restrain her and show her underwear. On Friday, Wendy brings a piece of chocolate but tells Linda it’s a chocolate-covered ant. While Caroline holds Linda’s hands down, Wendy forces the chocolate into Linda’s mouth. Linda throws up and is taken to the nurse. The principal comes to ask the class what happened. Wendy lies about the incident, saying Linda was starved for her chocolate and wanted it so bad. Wendy says she lied to Linda about the chocolate being an ant, but she couldn’t dissuade Linda. Jill is impressed at Wendy’s ability to lie to the principal.

That night, Jill’s parents receive a letter from Mr. Machinist. He has identified Jill as one of the kids in his photo. Tracy’s parents receive the same letter. Jill and Tracy’s parents get together to lecture the girls together. Jill’s dad calls Mr. Machinist, and they work out a punishment for the girls. Jill is convinced Linda turned her in.

The next day is a family friend’s bar mitzvah. Jill’s whole family attends. At the bar mitzvah lunch, Jill and her younger brother, Kenny, are seated at the same table as Linda. Kenny gets along great with Linda. The two laugh at his jokes and share Jill’s rejected food. Jill alludes to knowing that Linda told on them, but Linda doesn’t know what Jill’s referring to. Jill is upset about being around Linda and goes to the bathroom to eat the peanut butter sandwich she secretly packed. Afterward, Jill and Linda are forced to light one of the candles on the cake together as part of the ceremony.

The next day, Jill and Tracy go to serve their punishment at Mr. Machinist’s house. They recite a rehearsed apology and rake the leaves in his yard, which are abundant. It takes them all day. Jill tells Tracy that she knows Linda told on them, but Tracy isn’t sure. For vengeance, the girls pee in Mr. Machinist’s yard.

The next day on the bus, Jill tells Wendy and Caroline about Mr. Machinist. Wendy doesn’t look surprised. She then begins a rant about how she couldn’t believe Linda had the guts to tell on them. Tracy expresses skepticism about Linda’s guilt, which angers Wendy. Wendy lashes out that Tracy is accusing her and Caroline. Tracy keeps quiet. Jill suggests they put Linda on trial. Wendy likes the idea and appoints herself judge. Caroline will be the jury, and Jill will be the lawyer. When they get off the bus, Tracy says Jill fears Wendy.

Linda is absent for a couple of days, but when she returns, they hold the trial during lunch. Wendy announces the trial and accuses Linda of telling Mr. Machinist about Jill and Tracy. Linda says she doesn’t want to play, but the class locks her in the supply closet. Linda begs to get out. Rochelle, a quiet girl, asks who will be Linda’s lawyer. Wendy says Linda doesn’t get a lawyer, but Jill agrees with Rochelle, citing it won’t be a fair trial without two lawyers. Jill asks Rochelle to be Linda’s lawyer. Rochelle agrees. Wendy gets angry that she’s losing control of the trial. Jill finally stands up to Wendy, letting Linda out of the closet. Wendy vows to make Jill sorry.

The next day, Jill discovers that Wendy and Linda are sitting together. Wendy has nicknamed Jill B.B., which Jill later finds out stands for Baby Brenner. Wendy, Linda, and Caroline make fun of Jill for her food and call her a baby. They bully Jill in the same ways they had bullied Linda. That night, Jill talks to her mom, who laments that Jill is on the other side of things.

After the weekend, Jill goes back to school, and the bullying continues. While being cornered in the bathroom by Wendy, Caroline, and Linda, Jill questions Wendy’s loyalty to Caroline with Linda in the picture. Caroline becomes upset and leaves. The situation deescalates while Jill hides in the bathroom. At lunch, no one messes with Jill. The alliances have changed in the room, with Wendy and Caroline sitting separately and Linda sitting alone. Jill eats lunch with Rochelle, who also has a peanut butter sandwich. The class continues to tease each other, but it’s less serious, and no one person is the focus. Jill has learned how to divert attention from herself when she gets teased. 

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