Are you there, God? It’s me, Ecstatic. On October 17, it was announced that Judy Blume had finally allowed Hollywood into her world by giving the green light for an Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret movie. The announcement was followed by a collective, “Oh. Em. Gee.” from women aged 25 to 60 everywhere.
Many of us grew up on Judy Blume, with this particular nearly 50-year-old novel imprinted in our brains like a guidebook for womanhood. Blume made it normal and okay to be a hot mess tween, when all of us were the hottest of messes. I distinctly remember sitting on the long yellow school bus in grade four, glued to her words, learning I was not alone.
She was groundbreaking and fearless. She talked about questioning religion, when Christianity ruled unopposed and these kinds of thoughts were not indulged.
She talked about periods during a time when babies were brought by storks. By the time I read of poor Margaret’s struggle with the garter belts on menstrual pads, enough time had passed that I had no idea what the eff she was talking about. I was pleasantly surprised to learn the following year, when my own Aunt Flow made her first visit, that menstrual pad technology had made leaps and bounds and no longer required buttons and suspender-like contraptions. They even had wings.
Blume had been discussing this taboo subject for so long that it was dated when I read it in 1989. She was so ahead of her time, that the word period would go unsaid on TV for another 15 years after the book’s publication until a young Courteney Cox spared the world from dancing in the dark any further, bringing it to light in a TV commercial.
But Judy Blume didn’t stop with periods and religion when it came to breaking ground. In a box of old books, I found in the storage room of the summer camp at which I taught in 2012, I dug out and dusted off a copy of Iggy’s House. The 1970 novel tackled the issue of race and segregation. It told the story of a black family who moves into a white neighborhood, and the hateful reception they receive. It chronicles the friendship between a black little girl and a white little girl, their struggle to maintain a friendship during this climate, and their confusion over the fuss to begin with.
I read it to my class. The group consisted of children grades two to six, and the majority of the class were black or biracial children. The novel was accessible to children, but not condescending to them. Blume pulled no punches, and spoke to the child-readers as intelligent equals, as she always did. We discussed what it was like for different races back then. We discussed what it is like now. We talked about what has changed and what still needs to change. We marveled that if segregation had persisted, my husband and I would not be married, and my children would not exist. Many of them would not exist. They understood Blume’s words. They felt her message of love and activism as though she had written the book yesterday, not over 40 years previously.
Indeed, Judy Blume changed the way children’s literature engaged children in frank discussion, and tackled tough issues without euphemism. She talked about sex. She talked about same-sex love and self-love. She talked about puberty and religion and the innermost thoughts we all had but dared not share.
But sometimes, Judy Blume was just fun. I devoured her Fudge series like it was actual fudge. I watched as she told the same stories from different points of view, with young Sheila being both the antagonist or the hero, depending on whose book she was in. She taught me that people are multi-dimensional, and my writing should be too when I grew up to be an author — another thing Blume awakened in me.
She spoke to my chubby, self-conscious soul with Blubber. No one understood what it was like to be inside this body that elicited such vile hatred from others — but Ms. Blume had my back. She was a friend when I had no one.
Decades later, I cannot hear Judy Blume’s name without feeling a rush of warmth from my chest to my toes. I had a lot of favorite books as a kid, and indeed many favorite authors to go with them; but Judy Blume was simply more. She is woven into the fabric of my childhood. She helped shape who I am today, and continues to inform who I am becoming.
I read two more Judy Blume books with my class that summer. As the vacation wore down, and back-to-school took over, I wished those kids good luck with all their adventures and closed up my classroom. Several weeks into the new school year, one fledgling returned one evening. She asked me if I had any more Judy Blume books. She had exhausted everything the library had to offer, and wanted more of Blume’s work to consume.
I dug out the dusty box I had found in the storage room once more, searched through until my fingers met with the cover of Deenie, and handed my former student her newest treasure. I wished her well, and sent her off into the world — carrying with her Judy Blume’s legacy.
Heather M. Jones is a freelance writer in Toronto.