Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Book Review: Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned From Judy Blume edited by Jennifer O'Connell


I loved it! Anyone who read and loved Judy Blume books as a child and teen needs to read this book! It's a series of essays from Young Adult and Chick Lit authors about how certain Judy Blume books impacted their lives.

Because of that theme, one of my favorite of her books, Tiger Eyes, barely was mentioned at all, presumably because this group of women didn't lose anyone tragically in their teen years (thank goodness!) and the Fudge books got the short shrift too, but mostly my favorites were covered, along with a couple that were past my time (Rachel Robinson) and a couple that I just never read (Iggy's House, Then Again Maybe I Won't) but were certainly aware of. While there was diversity, I do wish there had been a bit more - I think the two books Are You There God It's Me Margaret and Deenie covered nearly half the essays. I was impressed that one of the essays was based on The Judy Blume Diary, and also one on Wifey. And I did like the diversity of topics even among essays on the same book. Different women identified with Margaret because of her religious confusion, because of the rift between her parents and her grandparents, and because of her moving to a new town and having to make new friends, not just the puberty stuff that gets all the press for Margaret. Similarly with Deenie some writers were drawn to her story because of the masturbation, because of the smart versus pretty dichotomy with Deenie and her sister set up by their mother, because she was a more average girl who'd never had expectations for herself and had to learn to be more. Some writers, upon rereading the books as adults, were surprised to find themselves identifying with the protagonists' mothers, and were surprised to find flawed, three-dimensional characters in those mothers, in just a few brush strokes.

What most of these writers come back to time and again is how Judy Blume is so beloved because she draw very real children and she didn't pull punches with the truth. In books like Deenie and Blubber, it would have been so easy for Ms. Blume to go with the stereotypes, but she most definitely does not. She also doesn't end the books with pat moral lessons - she frequently leaves issues open for interpretation or simply unresolved although not as much of a problem as they once were. Many lesser authors feel compelled to wrap stories up in a bow, and many people don't believe children and teens can interpret for themselves which brings me to the number one thing everyone loves about Ms. Blume and why she's been so beloved for decades - she trusts children and would never talk down to them. She's not demeaning or judgmental or high-handed in any way.

This quote really spoke to me: “As I look back over the other best friendships I've had that also ended, I wonder if, in addition to simply having a finite amount of time for such intimacy, we also have certain periods in our lives in which we seek out people who seem to embody the things we lack. Then, when we gain those things for ourselves, we no longer need that friend in the same way, which causes a serious dissonance in the relationship. Perhaps this is why these particular friendships burn so bright and then disappear so completely.” (Megan Crane "A Long Time Ago, We Used to be Friends") While I haven't read Just As Long As We're Together or Here's To You Rachel Robinson, I will be seeking them out at the library. Friendships are not only nearly the most important thing in your teen years, they certainly continue to be true later and this plainly shows how the lessons from Judy Blume books can follow us into adulthood, which is when we find out which friendships will last and which won't.

I can't imagine having had to navigate the tough years from 8-16 without Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, It's Not The End of the World, Are You There God It's Me Margaret, and Forever..., but luckily I don't have to. Even into adulthood I had Smart Women and Summer Sisters to keep me company. It's lovely to have so many smart and articulate women pinpoint all the perfect details that make Ms. Blume's works so seminal in young women's lives, and I hope one day to share the wonderful stories she tells with a new generation (my nieces.)

I borrowed this book from a friend.

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