Posted by: Lizzie Ross | September 28, 2010

Middle-school angst

Books by Judy Blume: Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. (1970). Blubber (1974). Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself (1977).

So anyway. Here I am, nearing the end of my 6th decade, reading Judy Blume for the very first time.

I was well past my early teens when her first books were published (and subsequently banned), and I was done, I had thought, with kiddie lit. Yet I soon realized I could still read YA lit while also wrestling with the likes of Dostoyevsky and Austen, but somehow I never tried anything by Blume.

Now I’ve been initiated into Blume’s world of pre-teen angst, and all my most horrifying memories of that stage of life (for my daughter as well as for myself) have come rushing back.

Blume’s books are quick reads (these 3 in one day) for proficient readers, and the issues raised in them are obviously appealing to middle schoolers (most particularly to girls, although there might be a few boys out there willing to brave these subject matters). Her characters’ voices ring true, their actions typical of the self-centered, self-concerned, self-focused middle-school mind.

There’s a great line in Blubber. Two girls have taken Halloween revenge on the local crank, who then catches them and demands retribution (they have to spend a day raking and bagging leaves). When they try to justify their prank by insisting the man was mean, one girl’s father says, “maybe this way you’ll both learn that it’s not up to you to decide who deserves what in this world.”

It’s a small lesson, but critical for being able to get along with others (there are many adults who still haven’t learned it, including those who challenge or ban or burn books).

Blume’s work is usually challenged for its honest portrayal of rites-of-passage issues (body image and sexual urges, menstruation, bullying, religion, the inexplicable shifts in friendship allegiances that seem to happen over night) and for the lack of resolution at the end of her books.

Margaret’s year of exploring various religions does NOT result in her discovering the best religion. Jill’s year of joining the school bully — and then having her turn as the bully’s victim — does NOT end in expulsion, or even public exposure, of the bully.

Blume’s goal is not to have the “good guys come out on top”, but rather to move her heroines forward on their roads to maturity. Jill discovers that she can reject the bully’s lead and still have friends. Margaret is reassured that her personal relationship with God doesn’t need to be supported by any established religion. (That last one could be the scariest idea for those who don’t want their children reading Blume’s books.)

These seem like perfect books for girls to read at the moment when they become painfully aware of their public selves, which explains Blume’s continued popularity. Let it never cease.


  1. I wonder if I would have been really confused had I read “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret” as a pre-teen – wondering what these belted pads were that she was wearing. It is funny too that until I read the book I had no idea where “We must, we must, we must increase our bust!” came from (though I heard it plenty).

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