Are you there, Judy Blume? It’s me, a grateful reader.

Judy Blume’s books have never been made into movies. Astonishing, right?

While reading about an upcoming film festival, I stumbled across an article about Judy Blume, whose novel Tiger Eyes will be the first of her works ever to make to it to the big screen. I have no idea why it’s taken so many years… but that’s not what this post is about.

Reading about the movie made me think of the impact Judy Blume’s books had on me and my friends, back when we were awkward, curious pre-adolescents just learning about what life had in store for us. I’ll admit it — this was in the 1970s. (Yes, I’m old! Deal with it.) We were subjected to those awful health-ed movies in school (“It’s Wonderful Being A Girl” — ugh!), which left us all horrified by the thought of the messy indignities soon to be inflicted upon us. Does any word cause more blushing and squirming than the word “puberty”?

And then… like a ray of sunshine… we discovered Judy Blume. Suddenly, we had a new language for what awaited us. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was the book to read when we were pre-teens. As Margaret and her friends struggled with identity, family, religion, and boys, we cheered and cried along with her, and modeled our conversations and expectations after what Margaret and her friends went through. I still have the letters my camp friends and I sent each other that year, full of questions about boys and “did you get IT yet?” We learned about periods, about bra-stuffing, about gossip and its harm, about friendship and being true. Puberty, growing up, popularity — all of it was laid out for us in terms we could understand, and the world became just a bit less scary.

Deenie came along, and taught us about beauty, family pressure, responsibility, and — oh, yeah — masturbation. I can’t think of another book from that time that dealt with the issues quite so frankly, and with such lack of judgement. Deenie came to terms with the good and bad of her own body: touching herself felt good, wearing a back brace for her scoliosis made her feel self-conscious, her good looks didn’t have to determine what she did with her life — girl power, 1970s-style!

And then there was Forever. That book was passed around among the girls in my camp cabin so rapidly, I’m surprised it still had pages left by the end of the summer. Sex! Teens! And it was all okay! This story of first love and first sexual experiences was eye-opening for us. Most of the stories we’d encountered so far were along the lines of cautionary tales: scary teen pregancies, girls getting bad reputations… but Forever was a first love story, where a girl and boy explored themselves and each other, and had a good time doing so. (I don’t remember the characters’ names at all, but I’d bet that everyone who read Forever at that time remembers who Ralph was!).

So reading about Judy Blume after all this time makes me wonder: Do pre-teens still read her books? I’m not talking about her books for younger children, which I know have never gone out of style: Fudge, Freckle-Juice, Sheila the Great, etc. Do girls still read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret when they’re learning about getting their periods? Is Forever still relevant to teens thinking about exploring their sexuality?

If I had to guess, I’d say probably not. Growing up in the 1970s, there wasn’t all that much to choose from in terms of young adult fiction. I’m not even sure that the “young adult” nomenclature was really even used back then. Contrast that to now, when the young adult market is huge, with shelves upon shelves filled with books that go way beyond the innocence of the books of my youth. The choices are unlimited for young readers today, with novels addressing everything from puberty to pregnancy, divorce to disease, sexuality, gender identity, mental health, and more. It’s fabulous to see the wealth of information out there, the choices available, the avenues for discovery open to youth in transition to adulthood.

So is there still a place for Judy Blume? I hope so. The characters’ experiences might come off as a bit dated, all these years later, but the matter-of-fact approach to growing up and making sense of one’s world can only be a good thing… for those still willing to read something that their mothers read back in the dark ages.

 

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