OKAY. I’ve put this off for too long and I can’t take it anymore. I want to wrap up my Back to School with Judy Blume project before I forget everything about all eight of the books I read last month. I put it off because this is my 100th post! And I wanted to figure out a way to celebrate that! And probably give away some free shit!* But I came up with absolutely nothing. So here we are instead.
I spent my September getting emotionally educated by the inimitable Judy Blume and eight of her teen and pre-teen protagonists. I learned some stuff! And I remembered some stuff! And I shared a whole bunch of personal details that probably no one in their right mind ever needed! That was my favorite part though, let’s be real.
Most of all, though, what I learned/remembered is that books are important. Books are important. Writing for young adults is profoundly important. If there’s one thing from my adolescence that most shaped me as a person it was reading, reading, reading, all the time, anywhere, at any moment. I always had a book in my bag and I probably actually started carrying a bag with me because I needed somewhere to put whatever book I wanted to carry around with me.
I had always been a big reader, since I learned to read (at four, my mother wanted me prepared for kindergarten) but my eighth grade English teacher was a particularly valuable element in my quest for the written word. She gave me Fahrenheit 451 and a slew of other books that changed me as a reader, made me more open, made me more aware, and made me better. She gave me Chris Crutcher and Robert Cormier. She gave me Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. And, had I been a bit younger or bit less obnoxious/aggressive as a human being, I think she probably would’ve given me Judy Blume too. She gave me access to the incredible library she’d built in her classroom and she took me seriously when I came to her to ask for more. (Hell, she even took me seriously when I did lyrical analysis of a Korn song.) She was a phenomenal teacher and an incredibly important part of my youth. She believed books and stories were important and she made sure that reading stayed with me, that school didn’t dig it out of me. I wouldn’t be a writer now, had she not nurtured me as a reader. I wouldn’t have an MFA. I wouldn’t tell stories. And without telling stories, without writing, I don’t know where I’d be. Thanks, Mrs. Wells.
Books are important. And going back to school with Judy Blume taught me why: We need to know we’re not alone. And Judy Blume is important because she wants young women — young people, but young women especially — to know that to their absolute core, to know in their hearts that no matter how isolated they feel or how weird they think they are, they are not alone.
It sounds like such a simple thing, but I think it’s one of the Great Purposes of Writing and it’s one for which I strive desperately. Why else would I share each and every thought that flitters across my consciousness? Why else would I blog? Why else would I read blogs? As much as I love reading stories and experiences that are unique to each of the people I follow, I think the medium transcends when you have a moment of “Oh! Oh, yes! Me too.” And I don’t really think books are all that different.
And Judy Blume’s books excel at those moments, they revel in them, they both whisper and shout them at readers. From being the subject of childhood cruelty to figuring out how your genitals work, Judy Blume is there to say, “Hey, you’re not a weirdo! There are lots and lots of us just like you!” And no matter how dated the details may be — sanitary napkin belts and Milwaukee braces that would never make it through a TSA checkpoint — that heartfelt relatability is the core of what makes Judy’s stories successful and timeless.
Being a kid — particularly one between 10 and 16 — is just horrid. It’s ugly and confusing and scary. Not just in a puberty way — zits and pubic hair and periods and boners are all weird, but we survive — but in a “I have no idea how to be a human being” way. You want to be cool and you want to be liked and you’re constantly struggling with desperately wanting to be older and not wanting it at all. It’s years of genuine misery and confusion, longer if you’re not lucky, and it all sucks so much. Adolescence will always be those things — gross and weird and scary and confusing — but lucky for lots of us Judy Blume was, is, and will be there to hold our hands through it.
And maybe through those scary bits of adulthood too.
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Then Again, Maybe I Won’t
It’s Not The End of the World
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
Otherwise Known As Sheila the Great
*No, you absolutely cannot have my Judy Blume books.