Everything I need to know about being a girl I learned from Judy Blume ed. by Jennifer O’Connell

judy.jpgLike most women of a certain age, I totally revere Judy Blume. Thus, I really looked forward to this anthology of essays by women writers, many of whom I already enjoy. Each writes a very personal essay,which she connects in some way to the impact J.B. had on her life, her girlhood, or her writing. Before my comments on the essays, why don’t I share my own J.B. thoughts?

Not surprisingly I was a voracious reader as a kid. I loved Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, Starring Sally J. Freedman Herself, and Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? Then, of course, I read Forever. At first I just read parts of it. That would be because whenever I spent the night at my best friend Joanna’s house we’d sleep in her oldest sister’s room (her sister was away at college.) And on her sister’s bookshelf was Forever. We read all the good parts and just like everyone else who reads Forever a little too young we tittered over “Ralph” and just about every other aspect of it. But I could not wait to read the whole thing and when I did I was not disappointed. It was the first of many YA stories I read that opened up a world to me that I was not yet privy to (and wasn’t sure I wanted to be a part of yet, anyway!) While I may have been slighly embarrassed to read about sex and changing bodies it was very clear to me that those things in an of themselves were not embarrassing or shameful. What an important lesson to be able to pass on to young people!

Fast forward many years to me grownup, working as a librarian on Martha’s Vineyard, where Judy Blume herself has a house. I met her there and had the opportunity to write her a personal thank you note for her support of the library. As you can imagine, a real thrill for me. Just this summer at ALA I met her again. She continues to impress me as a gracious, real, person, who just happens to have had a tremendous impact on young girls everywhere and also been a true leader in the fight against censorship.

So, those are my feelings about her, what did everyone in the book have to say? Well, very much the same sorts of things! It was really neat to read which books impacted the authors. Of course Forever was a popular one to reference, but many other books were there too. As with many anthologies, I didn’t read every single story. My attention’s been waning these past couple weeks so I sought out the authors I specifically wanted to read. The ones I most enjoyed were:

Megan McCafferty–Then. Now. Forever… McCafferty actually talks about many books other than Forever, and I find her a good conversational writer. Amusingly, she also had a “titillating first read” type of story for her reading of Forever.

Stacy Ballis–Forever…Again What I liked about Ballis’s essay was how she talked about turning back to Judy Blume as an adult going through a rough time (divorce). It was a powerful example of how what we read stays with us. Plus, good funny writing!

Julie Kenner–Vitamin K, Judy Blume, and the Great Big Bruise This one stood asbeing very different from the other essays, given that her reference for most of the story is Deenie. I’d forgotten so much about Deenie until I read this. Kenner suffered from a blood disease and felt much like Deenie–trying to keep it a secret and continue on as before.

Laura Caldwell–Do Adults Really Do That? Does Judy Blume Really Do That? What a great title. Though Caldwell references Wifey, a Blume book I haven’t read, I still enjoyed this essay and her thoughts about grownups and sex and grownup relationships.

Overall, a pretty solid anthology and I’d certainly think that any woman in her 30s could find at least one or two in here to enjoy reading.

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