Allison's Book Bag

Everything I Needed to Know About Being A Girl I Learned from Judy Blume by Jennifer O’Connell

Posted on: January 2, 2015

Everything I Needed to Know About Being A Girl I Learned from Judy Blume by Jennifer O’Connell brought back a lot of memories for me. First, because it referenced books by one of my all-time favorite authors. Second, because I related to many of the contributing authors’ experiences.

Most of the latter revolves around how Blume’s books helped fans through adolescence. From Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, which received the most credit, girls everywhere finally found someone who talked openly about breasts, bras, periods, and sanitary pads. A smaller number also found help with their religious struggles. Runner-ups would be Deenie and It’s Not the End of the World. Fans of Deenie seem to fall into three camps, which shows how well Blume could create complex characters. Some relate to Deenie in always being viewed as gorgeous but never as smart. Others better relate to Deenie’s sister in being recognized more for their brains than their looks. If I fit in either camp, it would the latter. But truth be told, I suspect I fall into that enormous middle ground of being average in everything. A smaller number of fans relate to having an illness that threatened to damage their high school experience. As for It’s Not the End of the World, which is about divorce, more than one fan talks about how they felt limited connection with it—until they found their parents going through the same thing. One fan even reveals how she rediscovered the book in her twenties when one of her parents made the dreaded statement, “We need to talk.” Next there are those who write about Blume’s longest and most autobiographical novel for young people, Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself. More than one fan of Sally, including myself, relates to living in a world where almost everything revolved around one’s imagination and one’s daydreams. For that reason, I almost picked Sally to review, but truly Margaret had the greatest impact on me.

Surprisingly, some of the experiences that the contributing shares revolve instead around how Blume has helped them in their adult lives. Here the most often mentioned book is Forever. I found it interesting that while many authors did read this book as teens, most seemed to have read it in the same way one reads any book that is banned: In secret, by flashlight, and with their primary pleasure coming from doing something scandalous. As for those fans who say they learned something from Forever, it was that first love often doesn’t last rather than the specific details of sex. The sex descriptions only seem to have become important when fans became adults. Some of those also turned to Blume’s first adult book, Wifey. They seem to find, just as Blume did when entering adulthood, that sex is a topic that not even friends like to discuss in an open and informative way. Yet sometimes just like one needs help understanding menstruation, one might need help with other aspects of being a woman.

Among the less often mentioned of Blume’s books that resonate with me are Blubber and Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. In regards to Blubber, perhaps the difficulty is that Blume explores what it’s like to both bully and be bullied. As is her trademark, she never outright takes a side but instead lets readers find their own answers. In that sense, I find myself thinking of Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Story. While that collection never gives the idea that bullying is acceptable, several authors were brave enough to admit that they weren’t always the victim or that sometimes they were bystanders. Blume rightly recognizes that bullying isn’t a simple issue. As for Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, a few fans credit it for helping them to face their fears. Although Sheila’s fears are different from mine, to this day she inspires me to be brave.

When my husband read my review of Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, he observed that it was very personal. My response? One couldn’t write about Judy Blume and not be personal. Indeed, the twenty-four contributors to Everything I Need to Know About Being A Girl I Learned from Judy Blume are extremely personal. Sometimes they are so intimate that I found myself wishing I could call them up to talk. At the very least, I might have to check out their writings, for some of them say they are trying to write stories that are as honest as Blume’s — and that would make for some excellent reading.

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