"I wonder if Judy Blume really knows how many girls' lives she affected. I wonder if she knows that at least one of her books made a grown woman finally feel like she'd been a normal girl all along..."
—from Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume
Whether laughing to tears reading Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great or clamoring for more unmistakable "me too!" moments in Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, girls all over the world have been touched by Judy Blume's poignant coming-of-age stories. Now, in this anthology of essays, twenty-four notable female authors write straight from the heart about the unforgettable novels that left an indelible mark on their childhoods and still influence them today. After growing up from Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing into Smart Women, these writers pay tribute, through their reflections and most cherished memories, to one of the most beloved authors of all time.
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About the Author
Contributors include: Jennifer OConnell, Meg Cabot, Beth Kendric, Julie Kenner, Cara Lockwood, Stacey Ballis, Megan Crane, Laura Caldwell, Melissa Senate, Stephanie Lessing, Kayla Perrin, Kyra Davis, Diana Peterfreund, Jennifer Coburn, Alison Pace, Elise Juska, Sarah Mlynowski, Lynda Curnyn, Berta Platas, Shanna Swendson, Laura Ruby, and Megan McCafferty.
Read an Excerpt
You can't blame Mrs. Henderson for giving her daughter a copy of Forever on her eleventh birthday. Like all of us in Girl Scout Troop 196, Kim was a die-hard Judy Blume fan. Of course, I prided myself on being the most avid admirer of all, the only one in our troop to have read every Judy Blume book available in the Bayville Elementary School library, from Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret to Then Again, Maybe I Won't. So as I watched Kim tear open the Smurf wrapping paper to reveal a previously unheard-of novel by my favorite author one that promised a timeless teenage love story on its cover I became instantly and insanely jealous.
And that was before I learned that Forever was The Sex Book.
This discovery didn't take long, as I had taken it upon myself to "hold on" to the book as Kim opened up other gifts. I feigned interest in her new Duran Duran cassette, the assortment of rainbow ribbon barrettes, even the Cabbage Patch doll named Annalisa Marie. My fascination with the book and disinterest in the birthday loot deepened, until I was finally able to usher Kim and the rest of the guests upstairs to her bedroom.
"Listen to this," I whispered as I went on to read the book's notorious first sentence, about a girl genius named Sybil who had "been laid by at least six different guys." Been laid! In the first sentence! Could this be the same Judy Blume I knew and loved? I wondered what was more stunning: The sex or its source? It was a far cry from the bust enhancement exercises in Margaret or even the wet dreams in...Maybe I Won't.
With the provocative opening as incentive, Kim, the other girls, and I bounced up and down on the frilly pink canopy bed, each taking turns skimming through the book, trying to outdo each other with the discovery of another dirty passage. Page 20: Michael tried to unhook Katherine's bra. Page 25: Michael felt her up under her sweater, then fumbled on the snap of her jeans. Page 40: Katherine's eleven-year-old sister accused her of "fucking" Michael in her bedroom!
Our fingers flew over page after page, only stopping when we hit a word such as "sex," "sexy," "moans," "penis," "sex," or "sex." Not surprisingly, we gave ourselves away. Mrs. Henderson alerted by our eardrum-cracking shrieks came through Kim's door, demanding to know the source of our hysterics. Mrs. Henderson was a divorcée, the neighborhood Avon lady, and our acting troop leader. She favored pearly pink lipstick, acid-washed jeans, and brassy hair teased to Jersey perfection a combination of artistry and products that I admired and never mastered. We all loved Mrs. Henderson and copped to the book's carnal content just as quickly as she removed it from Kim's clutches. She must have known that Troop 196 viewed her as being more hip and progressive than the other moms, so rather than merely banning Forever from our fourth-grade social circle, Mrs. Henderson told all our mothers that she would be happy to lend it to anyone in the troop, if they gave written parental permission.
My mother, of course, flatly refused. Though she didn't seem that different from Mrs. Henderson on the outside she, too, wore jeans and rarely left the house without applying mascara or "hot rollering" her highlighted blonde hair she was, at heart, the result of sixteen years of Catholic education.
"Mooooooooom," I whined as she prepared that night's dinner, something involving red meat and a few token vegetables in a crock pot. "Why can't I read it?"
"It's not appropriate for a ten-year-old," she replied without looking away from the flesh on the cutting board.
"I'm almost eleven!" My birthday was, in fact, a week after Kim's.
"It's not appropriate for an eleven-year-old!" she said, slicing down the blade. "I'm not sure it's appropriate for anyone at all!"
"Megan Beth, if you want to know about..." She hesitated here, waving her knife in the air. "That sort of thing...you should ask me."
This was a horrifying and altogether impossible proposition. Who wanted to talk to her mom about that sort of thing? But my mother had invoked my middle name, so I knew better than to continue my fight. Fortunately, all my years as a precocious book lover had paid off. Reading comprehension was my strong suit, so even though I'd only skimmed the book, I got the gist of the whole plot: Katherine and Michael were seniors in high school. They met. They fell in love. And they had sex.
Some crucial details I committed to memory and could still recall twenty-one years later:
1. Michael named his penis Ralph (page 73).
2. Michael "came" too soon, before they got a chance to do it (page 100. I had only the vaguest idea what that meant. Something came out of him? Like pee? And why would that stop them from doing it?)
3. Michael devirginized Katherine on a multicolored rug because her blood could have stained the bedsheets (page 101).
After Kim's sleepover, Forever turned into a game I played alone in my bedroom. Katherine (my Brooke Shields doll) made love with Michael (Ken) in an empty tissue-box bed. Pre-Forever, making love had meant sleeping in a bed naked with someone. Very little effort involved. Post-Forever, I pretended that Ralph was hidden inside Brooke-as-Katherine. Of course, Ken-as-Michael didn't have a penis, and his anatomical incorrectness suited my fantasies just fine. I still wasn't sure what a penis looked like, having only glimpsed at my baby brother's teeny unit as my mother changed his diaper, but I was simultaneously enthralled and repelled by the idea of seeing one. My nascent pangs of lust left me confused and queasy, similar to the nausea I felt whenever I tried to read a book in the backseat of a moving car.
Later that spring, Troop 196 earned points toward community service badges by cleaning up a local beach. After a heated argument in Mrs. Henderson's minivan over one pop star's supremacy (Cyndi Lauper vs. Madonna was a popular debate at the time, and I was always in the minority opinion), the other girls piled out of the van together singing "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" louder than necessary as I stomped off to a more secluded area to work by myself. I stuffed my trash bag in defiance, silently mouthing the lyrics to my favorite song. Like a virgin. (Hee!) Touched for the very first time...
It was almost time to head back when I discovered a tattered copy of Playgirl hidden among the bottle caps and cigarette butts in the dune grass. The centerfold was miraculously intact. The model was in full-on hair-band mode, wearing a black leather studded jacket and nothing else. He was posed in front of a microphone, head thrown back, eyes shut tight as if he were belting out a power ballad...or on the verge of splooging all over the stage. His ginormous penis was obviously impressed with the performance, as it was in the throes of a standing ovation.
Even at eleven years old, this whole setup struck me as absurd. I mean, what would possess this guy to perform in a leather jacket and no pants? Duh. It made me wonder how Katherine could possibly look at Ralph-the-Penis without cracking up. How could she get hot and bothered by the idea of that...that...thing poking around inside her? It made no sense.
As unsexy as it was, I had no doubt that my fellow Scouts would take a prurient interest in the centerfold. My find could catapult me into popularity, if only for the rest of the afternoon. But I also knew if Mrs. Henderson found out and told my mom, the possession of pornographic materials would surely lead to a major grounding. My parents would be appalled, but my peers would be impressed. It was the virgin/whore, Cyndi/Madonna conundrum, and in this case, the good girl in me won out. I stuffed the Playgirl pages deep in my trash bag and didn't say another word about them.
Not long after that mystifying first introduction to the male genitalia, my mom took it upon herself to educate me in that sort of thing. She brought me across the street to my best friend Adrienne's house, which to this day remains the most orderly and pristine place I have ever visited. If Adrienne or her mom ever wore jeans, they were of the starched-stiff, high-waisted variety that could be subcategorized as slacks within the taxonomy of denim. We sat on the plump couch. Me, slumped and skeptical. Adrienne, respectful and ramrod straight like the ballet dancer she was. Together, in their darkened, dust-free family room, we watched a very special filmstrip borrowed from the middle school health class I would take two years later.
The mere mention of the word "filmstrip" hopelessly dates me, I know. As a brief primer for those who have come of age in the digital era, a filmstrip entertained and informed one boring picture at a time, with a breathy narrator on a cassette tape going on at length about the subject represented by each still frame. When the anonymous speaker finished her oration, the cassette would signal the need to manually forward the reel to the next boring picture with a mechanical-sounding BOOOOOP!
A diagram of the female reproductive system. BOOOOOP! A bottle of douche with a red slash warning that it is not a valid method of birth control. BOOOOOP! A grinning girl running rapturously through a field of wildflowers feeling so free and April fresh...ummm...because she has just used the douche for nonbirth-control purposes? BOOOOOP! This last image was particularly striking. I had just branched out of the Blume canon to read Go Ask Alice, and it seemed more likely to me that this girl was having some sort of acid freak-out and was not, as the voice-over implied, simply carried away by the joys of reproductive maturation.
It was this primitive form of audiovisual infotainment that taught me all about the 3 P's: Puberty, Periods, and Pregnancy. I'd go through Puberty, get my Period, and if I wasn't careful I'd get Pregnant and ruin the rest of my life. One P conspicuously deemphasized was Penis, which was discussed in the most clinical manner and only in regard to how it could be used to get me P for Pregnant and (repeat it with me) ruin the rest of my life. I remember thinking how much more interesting the lesson would have been if the filmstrip had been an actual movie starring Brooke Shields with a soundtrack by Michael Jackson. Yet it had the desired effect on my best friend. Adrienne had six years of Catholic school education behind her and couldn't wait to make a vow of lifelong chastity.
"I'm never going to have sex," she proudly declared to her mom.
And I thought, That's because you didn't read the good parts in Forever.
Over time, Forever lost its hold on me as the dominant inspiration behind my sweatiest daydreams. As I left my (secular) elementary school behind, The Sex Book was replaced by more visual and visceral stimuli including (1) the T&A teen flick Private School, in which a rich red-haired temptress taunts Matthew Modine with a bouncy topless horseback ride; (2) the "Take My Breath Away" Top Gun tongue bath between Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis; (3) any River Phoenix movie. At twelve, thirteen, and fourteen years old, these were the images that aroused confusing pit-of-my-belly longings for...for what exactly?
I figured I'd finally find out at fifteen, when I got my first serious boyfriend. B. was the first boy to kiss me. It took place in our school's parking lot right before the buses were about to pull away. A meaty proboscis pried open my puckered lips and proceeded to probe the rest of my face. His wet tongue roamed around, more outside my mouth than in, perhaps so that it could be easily viewed at a distance, thus putting an end to the hassling the basketball team was giving him to "French" me already. This inauspicious start might have served as a warning of letdowns to come.
Back then, I never could have imagined that those disappointments would serve me well and I would be lucky enough to make my living just as Judy Blume made hers, telling fictional stories about teenage girls struggling with the choices before them. And though I imagine our story is more common than not, when B. asked me out at fifteen, he had no idea that I would turn out to be a professional writer. Or perhaps he did. Either way, despite countless battles and breakups and get-back-togethers, B. turned out to be my only serious boyfriend in high school. Together, we fumbled through that first kiss and the other firsts that followed.
And none of it was his fault.
Not too long ago, I spotted a paperback copy of Forever at my local library. I hadn't picked it up since squealing over the good parts at Kim's sleepover two decades earlier. I couldn't help but notice that it hadn't been checked out in more than a year. No surprise there. In a discussion about influential authors, I'd once asked an audience of about a hundred high school students if they had read Forever, and only about a half-dozen hands went up. And these girls had read it only because they had been encouraged by their moms, for whom it had been an unforgettable rite of passage.
Yes, what my mom had once forbidden was now a source of mother/daughter bonding. When I shared this irony with my audience, they were dumbfounded. "What was so scandalous?" asked a particularly blunt sophomore. "Katherine didn't even give him a blow job." They were even more surprised when I told them that Forever remains one of the most banned books by parents and educators. Of course, these conflicting attitudes regarding teen sexuality are reinforced in the media, which depicts our nation's youth as being equally torn between public purity pledges and private rainbow parties.
I'm on the more liberal side of the ideological divide, so I picked up Forever that day in the library thinking it would be nothing more than a nostalgic hoot. A quaint throwback to the era of fondue parties, "queers," and VD. And yes, as I read it for the first time in its entirety, I chuckled at the seventies-style Public Service Announcements I had originally skipped over in favor of more salacious material. Like when Katherine's grandmother her grandmother! sent pamphlets from Planned Parenthood and encouraged her to go on the pill. Or when her mother wanted to have a heart-to-heart talk about a newspaper survey on the subject of sexual liberation. And when Katherine's acquaintance, Sybil the nympho genius from the infamous first sentence got pregnant because she made the most heinous error of all: sex without love.
And yet despite the infrequent lapses into corniness, Judy Blume's perspectives on teen sex were indeed more progressive than I had expected. Here was a seventeen-year-old female narrator who knew her desires were natural and didn't deny them to herself or her boyfriend. In an era when even pro-sex advocates focus more on Girls Gone Wild-style provocation than actual pleasure, Katherine's candor and unapologetic lust struck me as revolutionary. Specifically, here's what I had missed about Forever:
1. Katherine described losing her virginity as a "letdown."
2. Katherine "came." Without foreplay, from intercourse alone. Multiple times.
3. Katherine checked out Ralph-the-Penis not because Michael pressured her to but because she wanted to.
Now, all these years later, I realized getting up close and personal with the contents of my first boyfriend's tightie-whities had been totally out of the question. I know this sounds bizarre and it is but in three years of dating, I never so much as sneaked a peek, let alone studied B.'s penis with scientific interest. And yes, this means that I never performed that certain sexual act that the oh-so-jaded millennial sophomore took for granted. Never. Not before, during, or even after we did it. Which we did, after more than two years of dating, a few weeks after both of our seventeenth birthdays, on an overnight retreat for peer leaders at a religious campground. (Sorry, Mom and Dad.) While the actual act turned out to be less than what I'd hoped for, at least my devirginization at a faith-based gathering was steeped in irony.
I can identify with Katherine's anticlimactic deflowering. And yet while she was honest about how it was more of a relief to have it over and done with than anything else, I lied to myself (and one or two confidantes) by turning my first time into an exquisite body-and-soul transforming experience that it never was and wouldn't be until years later with the man I married.
It wasn't because I was inhibited by the classic virgin/whore dilemma or the threat of a bad reputation. And despite my filmstrip indoctrination, I wasn't worried about pregnancy (or STDs for that matter) because I was vigilant about protection. Nor was I still haunted by that first hilarious glimpse at Mr. Rock-n-Cock in Playgirl. No, it wasn't even the capital P for Penis that made me so uneasy about sex and my first love.
Katherine and Michael believed in the first-and-only vows of everlasting love. When the newspaper survey asked a question about how the relationship would end, Katherine was deeply offended by the query. B. would have been, too.
He told me many times that I was his female equal, and he was wrong. B. was far more popular than I was, and I took some comfort in my elevated status by association. He was good-natured and charismatic. He was as adept at being the sensitive guy who listened to girls' troubles as he was at engaging in grossed-out guy humor. I was moody, quick to judge, and used sarcasm to shield typical teenage insecurities. His body was amazing, with the carved-instone musculature of a natural athlete, and he had no shortage of girls who would have been more than happy to do anything for him in and out of bed. As for me, if any other guys in high school thought I was hot, I certainly never knew about it. These disparities might have been why we weren't considered for Class Couple in our high school yearbook. I wouldn't have even voted for us.
But I guess we were well matched in the sense that we were considered the male and female Most Likely to Succeed. We were both ambitious straight-A students, three-sport varsity athletes who rounded out our college applications with a long list of extracurriculars. Maybe this was enough for B. He was so convinced that I was The One that he repeatedly reminded me in furtive late-night phone confessions and in tightly folded notes he left for me in the pocket of his varsity jacket the one that he said I didn't wear often enough. But usually he'd gasp promises in my ear during frenzied sessions of making out (and more): We're meant to be together forever. Less often but often enough he told me if I ever broke up with him, he would kill himself. The vein in his forehead bulged, and my bicep turned white in his grip.
Before asking Michael to drop his pants so that she could examine Ralph-the-Penis, Katherine confessed, "I want to see everything...I want to know you inside out." The truth is, I didn't want to know B. inside out. In a way, the less I knew, the better. This emotional detachment was indistinguishable from my physical detachment when we were intimate, an odd not-really-there feeling that I needed in order to cope with this intense relationship for which I was not at all prepared yet couldn't bring myself to get out of. Unlike Katherine, I thought about how our relationship would end all the time. And it never went well.
So what makes Forever still relevant for me isn't the genius nymphomaniac, the famously personified penis, or any other dirty detail. It's what the novel says about love especially first love and how it dies.
Katherine bravely ended her first relationship because she wanted to experience physical and emotional passion with someone else. She was no doubt emboldened by the knowledge that someone else was already waiting for her in the form of Theo, the hunky tennis instructor she met during her summer away from Michael. "I thought of pretending," Katherine said after she reunited with her boyfriend and realized she wanted out. "I'm no good at pretending. And anyway, pretending isn't fair." I knew that, too. And yet the good girl in me pretended.
After six months with B., I pretended that I wasn't curious to kiss the cocky actor I met at a summer arts camp. After a year, I pretended that I wasn't intoxicated by the class lothario, a poet/addict who went out of his way to flirt with me in front of B. After two years, I pretended that I wasn't completely taken by a shy, smart sophomore who once dated B's younger sister. For nearly three years, I pretended that I saw a future for us because I was afraid of what would happen in the aftermath of our breakup. But I wasn't very good at faking it, either, and I spent the greater portion of my high school years acting like a bitch, blaming every frustrated attraction on too much PMS or not enough sleep. Why B. put up with this, especially with so many other options available, I'll never understand. Perhaps he was driven by the same fears of what would happen if he stopped.
I'm not sure when or how we broke up, and I would be making it up if I said otherwise. I remember a protracted series of dramatic fights and exhausting crying fits, of jealous flirtations and violent empty threats, and a failed attempt (his) at one last boozy fling for old time's sake. I went to my senior prom with B.'s best friend, an arrangement that indicates we split well before graduation. I cannot recall the final break, and this monumental event is mysteriously absent from the pages of my journal. But I don't think I've blocked out the details as a defense mechanism. I prefer to believe that I've let go of the most bitter memories because I didn't need to hang onto them.
Not too long after high school, I fell in love again. I had my heart broken. I later regretted not sleeping with someone I cared about deeply and then got involved with someone else who should have never been more than just a friend. I withheld empty promises of tomorrow. And finally, I made the only lifelong vow worth believing in.
I moved on. And B. did, too.
I still can't help but wish my mom had let me read Forever from start to finish instead of showing me that lame filmstrip. By the last chapter, it's clear that Katherine and Michael got over each other. Their lost love wasn't a tragedy. It was inevitable. And if I had read more than just the good parts, maybe I would've mustered the courage to break up with B. sooner, sparing us both many tears and much pain in the process.
Then again, maybe not.
We were fifteen, sixteen, seventeen years old and had no clue what we were doing. We were each other's trial and error, as all first loves are. And I'm not convinced Judy Blume's wisdom would have helped one bit back then.
I was at the library to return the book my husband browsing down the shelves, our three-year-old son grabbing my hand when I realized that I'd never noticed the ellipses in the title: Forever... Only after a few decades of living, of loving and being loved in return, can you comprehend that Forever... means something very different than Forever. Only then can you understand that any vow uttered by an adoring adolescent is accompanied by invisible ellipses. "Forever...Then. Now."
Copyright © 2007 by Jennifer O'Connell
"Then. Now. Forever..." copyright © 2007 by Megan McCafferty
Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Guide
Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume
Edited by Jennifer O'Connell
Like the young girls and grown women characters in Judy Blume's novels, real women love gossiping about their lives. So here's the skinny on some of your favorite writers from this collection, in their own words!
1. What was your first kiss like?
2. Name three of your oddest jobs.
3. What is your favorite color and why?
4. How many BFFs have you had?
5. What does your kinkiest pair of underwear look like?
6. Name your three biggest fears.
7. Briefly describe a happy memory involving the opposite sex.
8. What was your favorite prank call (that you made or that someone made to you)?
9. Was your teen bedroom a disaster area or clean and pristine? What's your room like now?
10. Have you ever gone skinny dipping?
11. How has your relationship with your mother changed from girlhood, to adolescence, to adulthood?
12. Which sibling got the most attention in your house?
13. Briefly describe the best date you've ever had.
14. Briefly describe the worst date you've ever had.
15. Name your three favorite movies.
16. When you first noticed boys, how long did you think it would be before you got married?
17. What's your funniest bra/breast story?
18. What is the most humiliating thing that happened to you as a child?
19. Were you the bully, or did you get picked on as a child?
20. Who's more neurotic about her children you, or your mother?
21. Did you ever get caught masturbating?
22. Did you believe in God when you were a teenager? Why or why not?
23. What are your three favorite things to do with your girlfriends?
24. Where is the most unusual place you've had sex?
Use the following opportunities to discuss some of Judy Blume's most popular themes with the members of your Book Club.
1. In essays like "Then. Now. Forever." by Megan McCafferty, "The M Word" by Lara Zeises, and "Do Adults Really Do That?" by Laura Caldwell, the authors remember learning about and discussing sex for the first time. Sometimes it's traumatic, sometimes it's funny, but however it happens, it's always memorable. Share the story of how your parents first brought up the "birds & bees," or the time that your class was separated into groups of boys and girls to watch informational films on this biological imperative.
2. Many of the essays in this book, including "Forever...Again" by Stacey Ballis, cite the deep impact that Judy Blume's most banned and celebrated book, Forever, had on their early ideas about love and sex. What was your first experience with love like? Why do you think that attitudes about teen sex have or haven't changed since Forever was first published?
3. Young girls universally struggle through puberty, which often leaves in its wake identity crises and a scramble to label and be labeled as girls seek to order their chaotic, changing worlds. "Boys Like Shiny Things" by Laura Ruby, "Cry, Linda, Cry" by Meg Cabot, and "Freaks, Geeks, and Adolescent Revenge Fantasies" by Shanna Swendson describe the authors' own stories of battered and, ultimately, triumphant self-esteem. What labels were you given as a child? How did these affect your sense of identity and the way you related to others? What, if anything, did you do to shed or strengthen these identities?
4. Sometimes it seems like the female half of the species are burdened with a rebellious and uncooperative body from the moment we become self-aware until...well, it never ends! After reading "The One That Got Away" by Stephanie Lessing, "I Am" by Erica Orloff, "Vitamin K, Judy Blume, and the Great Big Bruise" by Julie Kenner, "The Importance of ABCs" by Kayla Perrin, and "Are You There, Margaret?" by Alison Pace, what body image issues from your past came back to haunt you? What physical attributes do you still battle for control?
5. Women's magazines and evening news channels have made much ado about "friend dates" and other ways that friendships follow patterns similar to romantic relationships. Authors Megan Crane and Lynda Curnyn explore these similarities particularly the equally dramatic breakups in their essays "A Long Time Ago, We Used to Be Friends" and "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do Especially with Your BFF." Have you ever had to break up with a friend? If so, why, and at happened? If not, why do you think your relationships with women have remained unscathed?
6. Moving and making new friends can be a child's worst nightmare Tony Miglione of Judy Blume's Then Again, Maybe I Won't certainly thought so. So did Berta Platas ("The Wienie Girls' Guide to Making Friends") and Melissa Senate ("Then Again, Maybe I..."). What was it like for you making friends as a child? How has your approach to adjusting to new environments and making new friends changed as an adult?
7. "Are You Available God? My Family Needs Counseling" by Kyra Davis and "It Wasn't the End of the World" by Kristin Harmel touchingly revisit the difficulties inherent in what were once considered "unusual" family circumstances, such as divorced parents and religious intermarriage. Davis writes, "Let's face it, all our families are at least a little dysfunctional." Do you think this is true? If so, in what ways do you think your own family was dysfunctional? What Judy Blume books did help or might have helped you to make sense of the tension broiling around you?
8. In her essay "Superfudged," Cara Lockwood compares her tortured childhood relationship with her younger brother to that of Judy Blume's Peter Hatcher and his brother, Fudge. Do you have any siblings? If so, how has your relationship to each other changed since you were children? If not, how do you think being an only child affected how you related to others in your early years?
9. Children often feel that the world of adults is mysterious and incomprehensible, sometimes because their parents purposefully make it that way! "A Different Kind of Diary" by Elise Juska, "Mother of All Balancing Acts" by Beth Kendrick, and "Brave New Kid" by Diana Peterfreund all share insights about the complexities of child-adult relations. Did you find it difficult to navigate the transformation from child to young adult to adult with respect to your parents' treatment of you? What similarities did you find between these women's stories and your own relationships with your parents? How are your stories different?
10. Jennifer Coburn revisits one of Judy Blume's more serious social topics racism in her essay "Guilty's House." Can you relate to the described feelings of "white guilt?" Why or why not? If you are a member of an ethnic minority, what was your response to reading this blunt portrayal of one girl's struggle with political correctness?
11. In her essay, "We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming for a Judy Blume Moment," Jennifer O'Connell defines certain poignant moments she believes we all experience as "Judy Blume Moments." Some of these moments include those that "make a girl feel like a princess in a blue cotton nightgown" and "realizing that even as we get older...we'll always be the girls who play in the waves and giggle with our friends." Describe some of your own Judy Blume moments.
What did you learn about being a girl from Judy Blume?
Have each member of your Book Club bring a highlighted passage from her favorite Judy Blume book to read out loud to the group. Then, take turns answering the following questions:
1. Why was this book your favorite Judy Blume book?
2. When you re-read the book, what were your reactions? Did you find that the story, the characters, and the feelings it evoked were the same as what you remembered?
3. Which Judy Blume characters did you most identify with in childhood?
4. Which characters do you most identify with now?
5. Do you think Judy Blume's characters and the issues they face are timeless, or would they seem dated today?
6. Why do you think Judy Blume's books had such an impact on their young readers when they were first published?
7. Of the essays in Everything, which one did you most identify with and why?
Enhance Your Book Club Experience
For extra fun, make photocopies of the author survey questions to pass around to members of your Book Club, or forward it around via email. You can respond anonymously, or share your answers openly.
When you get together to discuss Everything, have each member bring a snack specifically, her favorite junk food from the age she became a Judy Blume fan!
Judy Blume tackles many universally challenging topics in her books, including the sometimes strained relationships between mothers and daughters. Designate a Book Club meeting to which everyone is invited to bring either her mother or her daughter. Before the meeting, each member should share her favorite Judy Blume book with her guest. When you're all gathered together, go around the room and share which parts of the book reminded you of each other, helped you to better understand each other's point of view, or generally made you feel closer.
Several of Judy Blume's books have been scrutinized, challenged, attacked, and otherwise fought by censors, including Blubber; Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret; Forever; Deenie; and Tiger Eyes. Visit the link below to view a list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000 and also the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2005. How many of these books have you or your children read? How do you feel about the efforts to restrict access to these books?
This book put together all my thoughts on the many characters in Judy Blume's books that I read in my youth and reread as an adult. Whether it be Margaret's learning what it is like to "become a woman", Deenie learning to deal with adversity, Ralph, or Sally J Friedman's theatrical ways, I can still go back to the first reads that took place over 30 years ago. Judy Blume helped most girls truly learn what they needed to know.
Judy Blume is one of the most beloved and well-known authors of our time. She has written countless stories for pre-teens, teens, and adults alike, and millions of readers have been charmed by her lovable characters and easy-to-relate-to storylines.
In EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT BEING A GIRL I LEARNED FROM JUDY BLUME, twenty-four of the most popular female authors today, including Megan McCafferty, Jennifer O'Connell, Megan Crane, Cara Lockwood, and Meg Cabot, contribute essays relating their own experiences with Judy Blume.
Covering everything from their own "Judy Blume moments" to hiding under the covers with FOREVER..., these stories are intensely personal recollections that offer an insight into the influence that Judy Blume's works have had on everyone who reads them.
As a Judy Blume fan myself, I really loved reading this book, and it brought to mind my own memories of reading her novels. Whether you just want to know more about some of your favorite authors today, or, like me, you grew up with Blume and her characters, this book is well worth reading and you definitely don't want to miss it.
Jennifer O'Connell edits Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned From Judy Blume, a book of captivating essays on the impact of iconic coming-of-age girl-lit author Judy Blume, written by contemporary female authors. Judy Blume is one of the best known and most beloved authors of our time. Not only has she written countless books for children/pre-teens/teens, but she also has penned some wonderful adult novels as well. Her characters are lovable, and her story lines incredibly easy to relate to. Over the last forty years, millions of readers of all ages have been charmed by books like Deenie, Blubber, and Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret."This collection of 24 intriguing essays highlight the kind of "Judy Blume moments" we all had growing up as girls in America. The intensely personal essays offer the reader an insight into the immeasurable influence that Judy Blume has had on the American girl.As an enormous Judy Blume fan (I even named a cat Judy Blume 19 years ago,) I really enjoyed this collection. It was a true nostalgic treat, taking me back to those fun (and sometimes painful) days of young adulthood. In reading the essays of some of my favorite authors, I was alternately laughing-out-loud and cringing at some of the recollections. It was so much fun to read, that I feel the need to revisit my Judy Blume favorites in the near future.
I enjoyed this book of essays different female writers compiled about their experiences reading different Judy Blume books growing up. However, most of the essays revolved around books I hadn't read such as Deenie, Then Again, Maybe I Won't and Starring Sally J. Freedman as herself. Of course, I went looking for them right after I finished the book.The book made me want to write my own essay but it would be about the book Summer Sisters, one of Ms. Blume's adult books.The book also brought back a small but vivid memory: when I was in elementary school, my mother gave me money for the school book fair and told me to pick out Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. I asked the librarian for it and she wouldn't let me buy it. Go figure. My mother went back and bought it for me. I still have that copy on my shelf.
This is a nice assemblage of reminiscences. It's neat to see how different readers related to different aspects of Judy Blume's works for entirely different reasons. I especially liked how Beth Kendrick discussed re-reading Blume's teen books as an adult and focussed in on the mom characters. Again, Judy Blume meant something different, to the same reader, but at a different time. For myself, I remember reading all the Judy Blume books and somehow enjoying them but I'm now left wondering why I did enjoy them. I was the antithesis of Margaret, suffering through early puberty and begging my mother not to make me wear a bra (I was 8, at the time). I certainly couldn't relate to Karen from It's Not the End of the World, who experiences her family's split as her parents divorce. Mine had been separated since before I could remember. Nor could I relate to Peter and how he felt having a little brother (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing & Superfudge) since I was not only being raised by a single parent, but I was an only child to boot. And so on. Yet, despite not finding a kindred spirit from among Blume's characters, her books compelled me and I read them all voraciously. As I did these essays.
Oh how this book brought back memories! I had to check out Judy Blume books from the library and sneak them home to read because my mother didn't approve of them. The appreciative essays from the female writers in this work show the range of impact that Blume had on anyone growing up in the 1980s.
If you were a girl growing up in the 1980's, chances are you read Judy Blume's books. And if you read Judy Blume's books, chances are even better that you still remember one or more of them better than many books that you have read subsequently. Who doesn't remember Are You There God, It's Me Margaret? And of course, everyone passed Forever around to read the juicy bits. I personally identified with Iggie's House although I was always the kid moving, not the one left behind to befriend the new family in the house. I still have my original Judy Blume books and have passed them along to my older children (and it's about time to pass the less girlish ones along to the small boy as well). And really, the way that these books captured a generation is unique and the very thing that this collection edited by Jennifer O'Connell celebrates.This is a collection of essays written by current YA and chick lit writers is nostalgic and familiar. Their essays on the work or works that meant the most to them as they developed as girls and young women could have been written by your best girlfriends. As Blume's books are pretty universal, so are the essays in this book. The authors have chosen a wide range of the Blume canon about which to write. The ways in which these stories have impacted their lives, the extent to which they remember the stories, and the breadth of the debt some of their own writing owes to the stories varies but it's likely that you'll find yourself nodding your head in agreement with most, if not all, of them. It is amazing how this shared cultural experience still forms us so many years later. This is very much a love letter and a thank you note to Ms. Blume and I admit that I read it with a huge smile on my face. I might be an adult now, but just reading about others' Blume experiences as preteens and teens had the power to take me back to that more innocent time in my life. And we can all use a little more innocence these days.
A collection like this is invariably going to have some better and weaker pieces, but, overall, this was an enjoyable read for Judy Blume fans and women in general.
What a trip down memory lane. As I read these short stories, it took me back to my teen years and what I recalled about Judy Blume’s novels. I remembered sneaking to read her paperback novels, as my mother thought Judy was inappropriate and too mature for my innocent, sinless eyes. It was on my way to-and-from school and under my covers at night with a flashlight that I read them all. Judy’s characters knew things that I craved to know, things my girlfriends were talking about and issues that I thought I needed to know about. I wanted this view of the world that she presented in her novels, this view that I saw only in her books. There were some novels that I thought Judy had written about me, the characters could have had my name stamped on them and other novels that I wanted to be a part. How could my mother dislike this woman, a woman who wrote such stories that I found inspiring and promising? As I read this novel, these women had all felt exactly how I had felt years ago, they each had claimed at least one of Judy Blume’s novels as their own. They saw themselves in it or they wanted to be a part of it, I felt a connection with these women writers, we could be sisters. Whether it was Deenie or As Long As We’re Together, or any of the other novels she wrote for teens, they adored one of Judy’s novels as much as I did. I enjoyed reading their stories and how they connected with the novels. These books supported these writers, they found something within its pages and drew from it. It was a delight to find others who loved Judy as much as I did and to reminisce about these novels that meant a great deal to me as a teen. In my twenties, I came across Wifey at the Walmart store, as I began reading again and I smiled as I saw Judy’s name splashed across the top. I remember the excitement that overcame me and I thought, “she writes adult books?” Thinking to myself that I wouldn’t have to hide this copy from my mother, I bought it and I devoured it. It was Judy, and I thought of it as my nasty book for a while. Oh, if mother only knew. Thanks to Murder By Death, a fellow blogger for bringing this novel to my attention.
Terrible!!!!!!! Worst book ive ever read!!!!
Good book. A lot of reminders about how Judy Blume helped a generatation (mine) get thru a myriad of life issues, questions, etc. I enjoyed the nostalgia, as well as the different perspectives and stories that each author relayed. This makes me want to go back and re-visit some of my favorite titles growing up. I will recommend this read to my friends.
a very inspiring book