The books of our youth can last for a lifetime
BY COLLEEN ALMEIDA SMITH World Associate Editor
Monday, February 18, 2013
2/18/13 at 6:51 AM
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Sometimes you find an author and you want to read everything they wrote. My first experience with that was as a young reader of Judy Blume novels.
I probably started with "Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great." Like many elementary school-aged girls, I was looking for young female characters to whom I could relate. ("Harriet the Spy" and "The Great Gilly Hopkins" were other favorites around that time, so maybe I just had a thing for girls' names in the title?)
But after Sheila, I wanted more. "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" and "Superfudge" soon followed, which included many of the same characters although they focused on Peter Hatcher and his younger brother "Fudge."
Somewhere in there I read "Freckle Juice," as well as "Blubber," "Starring Sally J. Freeman as Herself" and "Then Again Maybe I Won't."
But two novels by Blume stand out above all others. They are books that mark certain milestones in life, and they are written with perception and compassion.
"Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" is the story of a sixth-grade girl who doesn't feel she fits in, who hasn't gotten her period yet, and she talks to God like she would a friend - the title is taken from the first line. It's a book that really connected with me and my own adolescent struggles.
One of Margaret's obsessions in the book is with her developing chest, and my favorite part is still her exercises and the chant, "We must, we must, we must increase our busts."
I found the book at a garage sale a few years ago and bought it for my daughter. I think every girl can relate to feeling alone or behind or different, and Blume captured it so clearly and eloquently.
"Forever" is the other classic. I picked up the book in junior high school and, for me, it was the first time I'd really read about sex. It was sex between teenagers, and it was graphic and riveting. I couldn't tear myself away.
The characters of Katherine and Michael are entirely believable, and Blume captures their young relationship perfectly. I can remember sneaking the book home from the library and hiding it under my bed while I was reading it. I wasn't sure if my mom knew what the book was, and I didn't want to risk it being taken away if she did.
On her website, Blume says she wrote the book for her daughter in 1975.
"My daughter Randy asked for a story about two nice kids who have sex without either of them having to die. She had read several novels about teenagers in love. If they had sex the girl was always punished - an unplanned pregnancy, a hasty trip to a relative in another state, a grisly abortion (illegal in the U.S. until the 1970s), sometimes even death. ... I wanted to present another kind of story - one in which two seniors in high school fall in love, decide together to have sex, and act responsibly."
The graphic sex and language has led this book to being one of the top 20 most challenged books for more than 20 years.
Judy Blume's brilliance isn't confined to one genre or age group. Whether it's pesky little brothers or teens losing their virginity, she writes with wit and empathy.
Judy Blume turned 75 last week. She's still writing, and we're still reading.
Colleen Almeida Smith 918-581-8481