When I was a preteen back in the early 1980s, Judy Blume was a Big Deal. Her books dealt honestly with the concerns of adolesence — sexual curiosity, figuring out friendships, first love, and first period. The 1970s being the era of the “problem novel” in young adult fiction, there was no shortage of books that addressed all the pitfalls teenagers can fall into — read Lizzie Skurnick’s great writing on YA fiction — but I liked her books because the kids in them seemed so average, like me and my friends.
According to my much younger Strollerderby colleagues, Judy Blume books have remained iconic for girls, and probably some boys, for decades to come. I know my daughter is getting a copy of “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret” when she hits about fifth grade, and my son will get “Then Again, Maybe I Won’t.”
Double X interviewed her this week, and writer Shauna Miller points out that in Blume’s books, kids are curious about sex and their bodies, and are not punished for their curiosity. Blume said that was absolutely intentional. She was Margaret, asking God to please hurry up with the puberty already. And she wrote Forever (highlight of many a slumber party) specifically to counter the books where girls have sex and immediately get pregnant, or worse. The couple in Forever had what seemed like a normal teenage relationship, she was responsible and got birth control before having sex, and that was that. The relationship even ended in a normal way, when they broke up, no pregnancies, incurable diseases, or “happily ever after” marriage.
Blume’s books have been frequently challenged, which she doesn’t mind a bit. She knows her books can be the entryway to conversations about some difficult topics. “You can’t protect your child from the world. The best thing you can do is talk with them about anything that they want to know about. And as they get older, it helps to be able to talk about those things in terms of characters in books.”
Amen, Judy Blume. When I was reading Judy Blume’s books avidly, most of them were given to me by my mom, whose standard line was “I am giving you this book, and if you have any questions about it, you can ask me.” Pretty cool. And it’s good to know girls are still reading them.