'Tiger Eyes'

A scene from "Tiger Eyes." (Run Lizard LLC / June 6, 2013)

For 40-odd years, Judy Blume's books have dramatized the challenges of adolescence without benefit of supernatural bells and whistles. Nary a werewolf, witch, vampire or zombie — just the tough stuff real kids go through, which has endeared the writer to generations of readers and made her the target of censorious types.

Coming-of-age story "Tiger Eyes," the first big-screen adaptation of her work, arrives as a lean, economically told indie that should please fans of the 1981 source novel.

Adapted by the author and her son, Lawrence Blume, who also directs, the movie, though uneven, benefits from a strong sense of place and an exceptionally well-cast lead. Willa Holland plays New Jersey teen Davey, whose family life is upended after her father is killed, and whose romantic friendship with a Native American boy (Tatanka Means, quietly affecting) helps her find her footing — literally, at first, when they're climbing the canyons of New Mexico.

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In Los Alamos, a company town in the shadow of the bomb, relatives have taken Davey's family in, and her conflict with them is the film's least nuanced element. There's subtlety, though, within the story's teen-friendly, straightforward trajectory, in the way Davey and her love interest each guard their secrets. And there's unadorned emotion in the drum ceremony they experience together (the screenplay provides no tribal specifics).

Davey's self-possession sometimes defies credulity, but Holland is never less than engaging as a smart, sensitive girl who's facing one of life's elemental challenges: how to grieve.

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'Tiger Eyes'

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material including a violent incident, and some teen drinking.

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.