Are You There, Judy? It's Me, SarahSarah Heyward

Like any girl who came of age sometime in the past forty years, I credit only one woman with providing for me a true education: Judy Blume. When I was seven, I overheard my cousin and sister discussing a book that mentioned “periods”. I begged them to explain and when they wouldn’t, I asked my uncle (that alone should indicate that I truly had NO idea what a period was). He gave me a lengthy lecture on ovaries and uterine lining and I left pretty confused and more than a little grossed out. My mom was next in line, and she told me, “It’s when a girl goes to the bathroom and there’s blood in her underwear,” or at least that’s the gorgeous image I was left with.

Of course, just a year or two later, I was devouring every Judy Blume book I could get my hands on, including a used copy of Wifey that I had to fish out of the trash after my mom confiscated it. All at once, Judy Blume became my imaginary best friend. Any question I had about growing up, puberty, bullying, friendships or sex was answered by one of her books. Every female child born in this country should be given her entire bibliography the second they emerge from the womb. Feeling pressure to be a mean girl? Check out Blubber, about a girl who inadvertently allies herself with bullies. Life throw you a medical curveball? Try Deenie, a book about the prettiest girl in the school who finds out she has to wear a back brace. Considering going all the way with your boyfriend? You obviously need to read Forever before you do the deed.

I can mark the milestones in my life with the milestones I read about in Judy Blume books, and I am so grateful to her for not only making it okay to talk about difficult, controversial issues, but for writing about them in a beautiful way. Here are a few of my favorites:

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret

So theoretically, this is a novel about a girl struggling with the fact that she was raised with no religion. Her father’s Jewish, her mother’s Christian, and she wasn’t brought up one way or the other. There’s definitely a lot of religious exploration going on – Margaret talks to God (duh) and explores both church and synagogue life – but for nine year old me, this was a book about bras and periods and all the stuff I was so friggin’ curious about but had no idea how or what to ask. Margaret’s interest in her and her friends’ changing bodies, and her desire to grow up, get her period, and wear a bra, were so familiar to me but not anything I felt I could talk about. This is such an honest depiction of what it’s like to be a middle school girl. Also, a history lesson (if you find an early edition) – who knew menstrual pads were once attached to belts?!

Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself

Interestingly, this is not one of the Judy Blume books I hear discussed very often. Maybe because it’s far less salacious than some of the others, or maybe because in it Judy addresses more serious issues like anti-semitism and racism, but regardless, this was definitely one of my favorites growing up. The story features a ten year old girl (Sally) who moves from New Jersey to Miami in 1947. There she discovers racial segregation and believes Adolf Hitler is living in her apartment building. Sally is extremely imaginative and loves “adventure”, so there’s a sweetness to her story and her struggles to understand troubles in her parents’ relationship, her brother’s illness, and, of course, the politics of the world around her. Spending time with Sally meant entering her dream world of made-up stories and half-understood grown-up experiences. Plus she taught me the value of eavesdropping, whether it’s at dinner parties or on the apartment building’s shared phone line, a necessary skill for any aspiring writer.

Forever

Like I said, this is the book to read if you are thinking about having sex for the first time, but it’s also the book to read if you are thinking about boyfriends, girlfriends, relationships, growing up, high school, intimacy, birth control, love, or any other human issue. Katherine is a high school senior who falls in love for the first time and navigates the tricky waters of how far to go, when to lose her virginity, and how to handle having such a serious boyfriend at a young age. This was an extremely controversial book because it’s considered Young Adult, but deals very honestly with sex. Of course, I ate up Katherine’s drama with a spoon, because I was nowhere close to having a boyfriend, let alone having sex, and I got to live through her. Notice a theme here? Judy’s protagonists might be living life alongside you, but they can also be one step ahead of you, the cool older sisters offering advice and experience at every stage.

Summer Sisters

Technically a grown-up book, I read this one summer at camp when I was in middle school and cried into my bug juice for a week after I was done. A total female-friendship-fantasy, the story surrounds Caitlin and Victoria, who spend every summer together at Caitlin’s Martha’s Vineyard house. The house is a ramshackle thing with sand everywhere and no rules, and the girls run barefoot and hitchhike and generally come of age as the summers pass. Of course, as they change, their friendship changes, but for all its problems, to this day I hold it in my mind as one of the ideal female friendships depicted in literature. The girls experience everything together, from puberty to first times, heartbreak and betrayal, and that may sound soapy but if it is it’s in the smartest, most believable way. This book is gut-wrenching. Read it if you haven’t already, and then give it to your best friend, and then read it together, and then read it alone again. N.B.O., Vix.

Just As Long As We’re Together

I saved the best for last. This is my absolute favorite Judy Blume book, maybe because it’s the one I read and related to the most. As I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen, I read this book so many times I used to be able to recite the entire first chapter from memory, monologue-style, and of course I did so, alone in my room all the time. “Stephanie is into hunks…” Okay I’ll leave it at that. The story surrounds Stephanie, who’s always been best friends with Rachel (see: Here’s To You Rachel Robinson) but when new girl Alison Monceau hits the scene, a torrid friendship love-triangle for the ages is born. Meanwhile, Steph is going through tons of other changes – moving houses, gaining weight, developing, and dealing with her parents’ increasingly evident separation. This book hits all the marks – smart, touching, funny, real – and then some, and your stomach will twist at the oh-so-accurate depiction of evolving female friendships in middle school. Remember that fun time? Stephanie’s denial over the state of her parents’ marriage is particularly poignant, and even children from happy, healthy families will be able to relate to the powerlessness she feels in the face of so much change. Read this book now if you haven’t already, and then call me and we’ll organize a staged recitation of the text in its entirety.

Honestly, every single book Judy Blume has ever written could be considered one of my favorites. I’m salivating in anticipation of the upcoming feature-film version of Tiger Eyes and silently sending please-please-please wishes in Judy’s direction that she’ll finally write a book from Alison Monceau’s point of view. We should all thank our lucky shiny stars every single day that books like these were and continue to be written, so that young girls feeling alone in the world can know that there are others just like them out there, leading the way or following closely behind.

Images via ebay.com, pul.se, literarycrap.blogspot.com, retrobookshop.com, greatminiatures.com, openlibrary.org

  • http://www.facebook.com/liz.haebe Liz Haebe

    Is it too late to read this, even if I’ 32?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1567670460 Julia Lipnicky

      nahhhh I’m 27 and I’m about to ;)

    • http://www.facebook.com/PennyLaneEmerson Penny Lane Emerson

      I know! I never read any Judy Blume books except Flubber, but after reading this article I feel like I need to pick these up! 32 yrs old at a coffee shop reading Judy Blume novels…I’d have to hide the cover with something more adult looking…like a newspaper!

  • http://www.facebook.com/laurenemorrill Lauren Morrill

    to post a comment

  • http://www.facebook.com/laurenemorrill Lauren Morrill

    Oh my god, Just As Long As We’re Together isn’t just my favorite JB book, it’s my favorite book of ALL TIME. When my mom accidentally donated my copy (with the cover above) to charity, I was beside myself. I ended up finding another one at Powell’s and was SO PSYCHED. I read this book every couple of years, and it’s still amazing, even though now I’m 29 (gag). SO SO SO GOOD.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=516483508 Shawna Cooper-Holloway

    I have Summer Sisters, one of my favorite books. Ive read it so many times.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessicarobin Jessica Robin

    So glad Just As Long As We’re Together and Starring Sally J. Freeman As Herself got mention. Those were two of my favorite Judy Blume books as well. I also loved the Fudge/Peter Hatcher books, as well as Otherwise Known As Sheila the Great. They weren’t particularly YA lit, but definitely gateway books to the rest of Judy Blume’s stuff.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1567670460 Julia Lipnicky

    So, now I totally want to go back and read all of these again….I’m litterally about to jump off of hellogiggles to go to the amazon kindle page and see if I can get them sent staight to my Kindle (that would be super exciting) yay for Judy Blume!!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/sarahhood0 Sarah Hood

      It looks like you can’t get them on the kindle in the uk, I am gutted! It would be the perfect way to read them again :(

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1567670460 Julia Lipnicky

    OK I’m back – I CAN get Judy Blume and all of her litterary genious sent to my Kindle in a matter of seconds!! Just thought I would share my excitement XD thanks for the idea.

  • http://www.facebook.com/vintagevampe Vint Age Vampe

    fabulous! I still have my collection of Blume books…treasures that I could never get rid of! loved your take…we can all relate!

  • http://www.facebook.com/radishadams Danielle Tardif Adams

    I will be 36 next month and I still have my same copy of Are You There God? Its Me, Margaret. It is a little bit tattered but I still read it at least one a year.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=700368790 Karen Millhouse

      Who can forget “I must, I must, I must increase my bust!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/LilMsMetal Carrie-ann Holland

    I loved Forever, and have recommended it to my 16 yo stepdaughter… Cos I’m just THAT cool. LOL

  • http://www.facebook.com/hairdresseronfire23 Rachel Carter

    Tiger Eyes is one of my favorite books!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/kristenz Kris Garvey

    YES. I agree with this 100%. Judy was like the big sister I never had, that would tell me everything I needed to know about becoming a woman, especially things my mom was too embarassed to tell me. I’m 30 and also still have my entire collection of Judy Blume books. I’m expecting my first child in March and if it’s a girl (we didn’t find out the gender) I will be sharing these with her as well as she grows. <3

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=507091199 Sarah Puckett Cavanah

    When I was in middle school, I’d go to the public library, head straight to the Bs and get the next Judy Blume book. (I remember asking my mom what in the world these “belts” were – such a foreign concept.) I’ve told the B-section-of-the-library story many times and have never found a person to relate to that – until you! So thank you! Alas, middle school was 20-something years ago and these stories are long faded or forgotten. I think I need to go back and re-read.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mgroveshaffer Michelle Grove Shaffer

    I’ve read all things Judy Blume, many of them multiple times, but I must have read Just As Long as We’re Together roughly 957 times. Best. Ever.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hillarylowry Hillary Lowry

    I have read “Summer Sisters” every summer, on the beach, since I was 17. It’s been 14 consecutive years now and I love it more every time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=4429 Sara Barnett

    Oh my goodness. Summer Sisters. I remember sitting on a deck in Chilmark, refusing to move – no beach-going to Luck Vincent, no sunsets at Menemsha, no clams at the Bite – until I finished that masterpiece.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=4429 Sara Barnett

    Oh my goodness. Summer Sisters. I remember sitting on a deck in Chilmark, refusing to move – no beach-going to Lucy Vincent, no sunsets at Menemsha, no clams at the Bite – until I finished that masterpiece.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elise.k.stephens Elise Saba Stephens

    I feel as though I’m discovering something my young girlhood missed! Thank you for this beautiful montage of Judy Blume books! I’m excited to read them!

  • http://www.facebook.com/erinmallorylong Erin Long

    It’s like you read my mind. I feel like everyone forgets about Deenie too! But I love that one. It’s why I was convinced I had scoliosis for forever. I still always looks at the ways a skirt hangs on my hips to make sure it’s straight.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001592478655 Laura Mendez

    Judy Blume is quite literally one of the most fantastic writers/people ever. I am trying to read every single book of hers. <3 <3

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