Hands up if you own a Judy Blume book? I’m guessing pretty much every one of you has your hand in the air right now.
I discovered Blume’s books back in 1984, when I was 11. A girl in my class had a constant stream of new books because her father ran a book store. Every morning we queued patiently at her desk to write our names in a wire-bound notebook next to the book we wanted to borrow. The list for Forever was so long, I gave up and bought it myself.
I love so many of Blume’s books, not only for the honesty in her writing, the clarity of her prose, and the warmth of her characters, but mainly because she made me feel less alone and less frightened about growing up.
This past Sunday, I had the extreme pleasure of telling her this myself.
Blume was in the U.K. to talk about her latest adult novel, In the Unlikely Event, which she confided will be her last book. It was a rainy, gray Sunday evening and had it been anyone else, I wouldn’t have trekked across London to get there. But this was Judy Blume we’re talking about — my childhood hero.
I was lucky enough to sit in the front row and listened as she talked about her most successful book in the U.S.(Summer Sisters) and in the U.K. (Forever). At 77, Blume looked at least a decade younger; she’s whippet thin with a dazzling smile and a youthful personality that seemed to embrace every single person in the packed auditorium.
When asked what advice she’d give to moms of daughters, she replied that she’d tell all mothers to “enjoy your children.”
At one point I found my hand was in the air, and I asked her about her book Then Again Maybe I Won’t. I wondered how she managed to get into the head of a teenage boy so brilliantly. Looking directly at me (my heart beating like thunder), she replied:
“I had spent six months writing Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, being inside the head of a 12-year-old girl. I wanted to be in the head of a 12-year-old boy, so I asked my physician, ‘How young can boys be when they start having wet dreams, is 12 OK?’ My physician laughed — mind you I doubt I could ask this today — and said, ‘That’s fine, make him Italian!’”
And the questions continued on.
Which of her characters was most like her? Turns out Sally, from Starring Sally Jay Freedman as Herself.
Which books are her own favorites? Well, she likened this to choosing which of her children is her favorite, and said some days she preferred one to the other! But pushed she replied, “Margaret, Blubber, [and] Summer Sisters.”
When someone asked how she had managed to write books that felt like advice, but weren’t patronizing, Blume thought about it and replied, “I think I didn’t judge the characters. I was inhabiting them.”
It was fascinating to hear why she wrote Forever, the book that taught me all about sex. Turns out her daughter asked her to write a book where a young couple has sex and they don’t die because of it! At the time she wrote it, YA books didn’t exist and in every book where a couple had sex, the woman would die having a termination or the boy would be killed in war. Blume made sex sound normal. Not only that, she answered all the questions I couldn’t ask my own mom.
I brought my 21-year-old well worn copy of Tiger Eyes for her to sign and thought about how much I want my own daughter to love Blume. She feels just as relevant now-a-days as she was back in the ’80s for me. No, her books don’t have condoms or mentions of Facebook, sexting, and Snapchat, but the emotions that come with puberty are just the same as they were back then. We all feel awkward and lonely. We’re all insecure. We all fall for boys (or girls) who don’t love us back …
I don’t know why I was surprised that so many teens were there on Sunday, but I felt a certain comfort in thinking Blume’s books still resonate with the youth of today. I remember when I was 11 or 12, thinking that Blume was inside my head; she seemed to know about all my fears: would I ever fill out my bra? Would I get my period? When will boys stop laughing and calling me “skateboard” on account of my flat chest? Why do I feel so sad that my parents are no longer together? Is having sex scary?
Blume’s advice for all of us who are desperate for our kids to love her books as much as we did? “Buy new copies and leave them lying around — then say ‘Oh no, you’re too young for these’ – then they’ll want to read them!”
Later that evening, as she signed my copies, I thanked Blume for all the joy her books have given me throughout my life. On the train home, I read through Tiger Eyes, my own filled with tears. The teen in me couldn’t quite believe I had met the woman who had helped me cope through the awful growing pains of youth.
Judy, you’ll never know what you meant to me then, but it sure as heck was amazing to meet you now, 31 years later.More On