When I was a little girl, I didn’t have a lot of friends. I did, however, have a lot of books.
I had books about the Pilgrims and books about the Revolutionary War. I had books filled with Bible stories and books filled with myths from Ancient Greece. I had books with golden spines with fairy tales inside and I had books with hard colorful covers starring my favorite television characters.
These were the first books that taught me about how much bigger the world was than me. But who was I supposed to be in it? I was just a kid. I was just a little girl growing up in the suburbs trying to figure it all out.
Judy Blume’s books were the ones that helped me figure out who I was.
One of the first chapter books I ever finished–that was not about Thomas Jefferson or the Adventures of Lewis and Clark or Theodore Roosevelt–was a beat up, purple paperback my older sisters had worn out in the 1970s. There was a wistful blonde haired girl on the cover staring out into space with a look that was half filled with worry, half filled with wonderment. The book was called Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and it was my introduction to Judy Blume and to the realities of what being a girl in contemporary society meant.
I devoured the book. For the first time, I was exposed to a heroine who was trying to find her place in a world similar to my own. For the first time, I was reading about a girl who’s life wasn’t a sugar-coated version of my world. She wasn’t the most popular girl in school. She didn’t have secret special powers. She was just a girl. More importantly, she was just a girl trying to figure out what it meant to become a woman.
Judy Blume was the only writer I can remember reading as a child who treated children with respect. By “respect”, I mean “honesty”. She didn’t sugarcoat puberty. She never shied away from the gross realities–emotional and physical–of adolescence.
She would create sympathetic characters that any kid could relate to and show her readers through her grace and her humor (and her honesty) how we could weather the oncoming storm. She made us feel less alone in our aloneness.
To wit, she also created one of the first male characters as a girl that I emotionally connected with. When I was given Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing to read (in fourth grade while I was a “nothing”), I didn’t find a male protagonist who was roughing it and being heroic that I was supposed to fawn over. I found a boy named Peter who felt exasperated and overshadowed by his brother. He was witty and smart and I felt like he was a lot like me even though I was a girl. It was a book that not only introduced me to the indelible and hilarious “Fudge”, but to Peter. Peter was the boy who made me–a girl who grew up surrounded entirely by women and without a single male figure–feel like boys and girls feel and think along the same lines no matter what society wants us to think.
Again, that was Judy Blume.
As I got older, I would ransack the library for her books, but it was always so hard to get my grubby hands on them. Judy Blume was my school’s favorite author (tied in a dead heat with Beverly Cleary and C. S. Lewis, of course). Everyone read her books. Boys and girls. We laughed and we cried and we felt like we could immediately connect over her stories.
About a year ago, I had just started writing for Hello Giggles and I felt sometimes like I was writing for a void. The internet can feel like a lonely place sometimes even though theoretically everyone can find you. See, I write all my pieces in my cubicle at my office job where no one knows I’m a writer (shh!) or on my couch alone while leaving the television on for company. There’s no audience. I can often ask myself, “What’s the point?”
I wrote a piece last September about how terrified I was about traveling to Los Angeles for the first time. To my shock, Judy Blume tweeted a reply to it. She suggested that the most important thing I needed to pack was a pair of cowboy boots–which I didn’t have time to because I was already in Los Angeles feeling even more alone than I do when I’m writing. But I can’t express the overwhelming jubilation I felt as a young writer knowing that such an amazing author like Judy Blume had seen my work. I think I actually called my mom and started to cry. It was one of those amazing moments in life where I didn’t feel like the world was so much larger than me that it doesn’t matter what I did or said. It was a moment where I felt like all of the writing I did connected me to the world.
Judy Blume gave me that with all of her books and with just that tiny, errant tweet. Judy Blume gave me a place in the world.
So, when I found out this week that the great Ms. Blume had taken to her own blog to discuss her recent bout with breast cancer, I desperately didn’t want it to be true. I love Judy Blume. Even though I’ve never actually met her, I feel like she’s mentored me so much over the years through her writing. She’s like this kind, smart aunt I’ve had since childhood and I couldn’t stand the thought of losing her.
Luckily, as you’ll see in her blog post, the cancer was caught early and her surgery was a success. She’s doing better and that’s incredible to read.
The other incredible thing about her blog post is how much it exemplified what I love about Judy Blume’s writing. The piece is brutally honest about her condition and the fears (or lack thereof) she had about the surgery. She even talks about her estrogen patch and getting hot flashes. These aren’t things most writers would discuss with their readers, but I’m glad she did. She’s writing about these things, much like she did about sanitary napkins and belts in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, to inform us about what might actually happen to us. There’s no sweeping it under the rug. There’s just honesty.
And with that honesty, there comes wit. There comes courage. There comes the strength to face down your demons–whether those demons are being nervous on your first day of school or having to face cancer. Judy Blume’s writing makes us feel stronger. It makes us feel understood and loved.
Because of that, I love Judy Blume. In fact, I think those are the reasons all of her readers love her so much, and like I said before, everyone at my school loved her books.
We all love you, Judy Blume!
Featured image from the Associated Press via