EDITOR'S NOTE: If you didn't know by the title that this post is about the books of Judy Blume, then this post may not be for you. Also, if talk about puberty and sex makes you cringe, this, likewise, is probably not your post, gurl.
Did you read Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret when you were a kid?
I checked with friends and relatives who graduated high school in the 1980s, 90s and 2000s, and nearly all of them said, Yes! I read that book! Who didn't?
And that is the truth of Judy Blume novels, isn't it? They have resonated with childhood readers for (believe it or not) 50 years because she addressed all the issues that adults didn't want to talk to us about - getting our period, first bras, bullying, masturbation, ill-timed teenage erections, divorce, racism. It doesn't matter what decade you grew up in, Judy normalized our struggles.
Some of my personal favorites were Otherwise Known As Sheila the Great, which I related to because I was also scared of literally everything, but didn't want people to know. That led to Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. I still have very purple feelings about Blubber because it's pretty dark for a children's book what with the bullying and all.
Sometime around 5th grade I became aware of Are You There God? It's Me Margaret. Maybe from my older sister, but I want to say that Leigh Gardner was the first one in our class to read it. Maybe she found out about it from her older sister. Anyway, Leigh checked out from the school's library, and that's when we all learned that it was in the library catalog but not on the shelves.The book wasn't banned, but you had to be a 5th or 6th grade girl to check it out (a very 1970s rule), and you had to ask the librarian for it. Once we realized that, it began to make the rounds. Later, we would read Then Again, Maybe I Won't, and learn about puberty from a boy's perspective. I don't think that one was in our school library though. Somebody's mother must have bought it and we passed it around.
Those of us who read Margaret as girls have a code that those of you who didn't won't understand. It goes like this: "We must...We must..." Yeah, you know what I mean.
Deenie was a game changer for me in sixth grade because that's right about the time when I was diagnosed with scoliosis. I saw Deenie's story as my future. I ended up not needing to wear a back brace but still. Also I wasn't pretty enough to be a model.
After I finished reading Deenie I gave it to my best friend Kim. The Judy Blume episode of the Pop Culture Preservationist podcast had much discussion as to whether we recognized the "special place" that Deenie touched back when we read the book. (One of them actually thought at the time that it was in her armpit I mean, what??) It was pretty clear to me what Deenie was doing but Kim told me one morning on the bus that she wasn't so clear, so she asked her dad, "What is masturbation?" He naturally freaked out and asked where she'd heard of that and she said, "In this book Kalisa gave me...I won't read it anymore!"
(She finished the book before returning it to me fyi)
That's the thing about Judy Blume's books. She talked very directly about things that the grown-ups in our lives wouldn't discuss with us. And, to be honest, we maybe didn't want them to have these conversations anyway. We'd much rather learn about these things in a fiction book with stories of kids our age. Anxious about when you were getting your period? When you'd get boobs? Yeah, Judy Blume was there for you.
I first came in contact with Forever (you knew this conversation was headed here) in seventh grade when Stacy Butler had it on her desk behind me in science class. I picked it up and very quickly started reading the sex parts.
Later that year, they made a TV movie of the book, which I remember my mom watching. When I asked her what was on and she told me, I recognized it immediately as that "sex book" that Stacy had.
Many months later I was in a store with my mom - IDK, a pharmacy or a grocery or something. There was a rack of paperbacks on display and there it was! I pulled it out and asked Mother to buy it for me. Having seen the made-for-TV movie and knowing the book was about a high school girl losing her virginity, my mom paused. "My friend Stacy read it and she said it's really good!" I assured her.
It's possible that she recognized girls my age were reading the book and that swayed her. Or maybe she just figured she could buy me a book and avoid the difficult conversations. Parenthood was A LOT different in the 70s and 80s.
When my mom explained to me where babies come from, she had made it sound like a man got hard on some kind of regular schedule. I believe her words were, "There comes a time when...." It wasn't until I read Forever that I understood the arousal part of sex. What a monumental moment in my development! Before Judy Blume, I thought a man got hard monthly like a woman bled.
When I listened to the Pop Culture Preservationist Judy Blume Forever episode, I had so many thoughts!
First, the podcast hosts talked about their first exposure to the book. Like Caroline, my initial exposure was reading the "sexy" parts first, before having the chance to read it cover-to-cover. (Thanks, Stacy.)
My second thought, listening to the podcast, was that I couldn't remember the names of either of the two main characters in the book, but I sure do remember the name of RALPH!
Judy Blume Code.