Being an avid fan of Judy Blume as a child, I thought by 4th Grade I had read all of the books she had published up until that point. Then one summer on Long Beach Island, NJ, I came across a Blume book in the public library that I had never seem before entitled “Forever”. When my mom saw that I had chosen Judy Blume, she distractedly nodded in approval and hurried me through the library checkout line so we could make it out to the beach to get a good spot.
What I didn’t know was that Forever was Judy Blume’s first book for Young Adults (YA) – although categorizing them with that distinction wasn’t widely in practice at that point in time – and that it contained some extremely graphic descriptions about sex. It was the most “adult” book I had ever read, and I was too young to truly understand what was really going on. But at least I had a better idea about what to expect for myself when my time came along.
Most girls can recall a specific memory similar to this one when they think about the first Judy Blume book they ever read. Whether dealing with menstruation (Are you There God, It’s Me, Margaret), masturbation (Then Again, Maybe I Won’t), or losing one’s virginity (Forever), Blume tackles the topics that kids wonder about the most. In the 1980’s, as a result of the subject matter of her books, libraries and schools nationwide started petitioning to ban Blume’s works, claiming the material was inappropriate for children. But banning the books made adolescents even more curious about what the author had to say. Blume, labeled “The Puberty Bartender” by Caleb Nelson in a Swindle Magazine article, vowed to fight this censorship and started working with the National Coalition Against Censorship to help protect what she called “Children’s Intellectual Freedom.”
After 24 books, Judy Blume manages to keep her stories fresh and relevant by re-writing bits of her novels with time. She updates the information for new editions of the book in an attempt to address the themes and concerns of the time. When character Margaret (from Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret) first gets her period, rather then writing about using a belt connected to a pad as in the 1970’s, Blume updated the old version of the pad and wrote about the adhesive kind commonly used today. To account for the growing concern of the transmission of AIDS, Blume wrote about her characters in Forever using a condom AND the Pill during their first sexual encounter rather than just relying only on the Pill as the characters did in older editions of the book. By revising these details, Blume feels she can stay relevant with young audiences by providing them with “the same knowledge with new equipment.”
Judy Blume – Featured on The News Hour : 1 of 2
Judy Blume – Featured on The News Hour : 2 of 2
The influence of Judy Blume’s style can even be seen in the work of recent authors. In Dear Diary, author Lesley Arfin utilizes the same “conversational” style of writing as Blume when disclosing details about her personal observations and experiences. The confessional tone in each of Arfin’s diary entries mimics the realism and honesty embodied by Blume’s characters. Although Arfin’s book focuses much more on the outcomes of her drug experimentation, there are also many vivid parts in which she candidly reports on her road to sexual discovery. There is even a sex and drugs “Experience Timeline” mapped out for the reader as a reference!
Judy Blume is a “Woman Who Made History” most notably for creating bold literary stories and for protesting the censorship of said stories. Without her groundwork, it is doubtful that we would have as many candid authors as we do today.
Judy Blume links worth checking out:
- Women Making History: Melissa Walker
- Piecebook: The Secret Drawings of Graffiti Writers
- Women Making History: Lesley Arfin
- “Dear Diary” by Lesley Arfin
- Swindle x Your Favorite Icons