In an age of sex-texting and seemingly random sex among some teens, are Judy Blume’s books still relevant? Do they still reflect the teenage experience and what adolescents can expect in their middle and high school years? Are there still lessons to learn from these books written almost four decades ago?
For my generation growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, Blume’s books were the guideposts. They gave great insight about how to handle your first spin-the-bottle game, start your period or buy your first bra. I read almost all of Judy Blume’s books between elementary and middle school. Scenes and lines from the books are still vivid to me. I even remember the brand of maxi pads Margaret buys in “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” (Teenage Softies.)
My husband recently brought me home a book of essays written by women authors who had also grown up reading Blume books. In the book, “Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume,” the women discuss how Blume influenced their perceptions of their bodies, boyfriends and friendships.
So I spent about two weeks re-reading many of the most popular Blume books specifically looking for how these books could relate to today’s world and teens. (I was encouraged when several of the books I needed had a wait list at my local library. I suspect that maybe those high school girls weren’t reading Blume but the middle school girls were. ) Here are my observations on Blume’s relevance today:
“Blubber” – These were the original “Mean Girls.” Blume didn’t have a name for it then but Wendy is the Queen Bee and Jill and Tracy were drones following along. I remember the main character Jill as being sympathetic, but she’s not at all. She’s just mean. I think Jill’s class would be arrested today for physically assaulting Blubber in the bathroom, and the school would be sued. As a parent I would be aghast if my child ever did anything like these girls did to another student. Although the forms of hazing and abuse have changed among teens (think email, texts and MySpace), I think the book could still help middle school students learn how deal with being bullied.
“Deenie” - I remember this book being entirely about masturbation. Oddly as I re-read it, I think I only counted two or three references to it in the entire book. Her main point on the masturbation is that it is normal and OK. I suspect teens still worry about masturbation today. Blume knows she’s a little bit dated on the Scoliosis info and has an editor’s note at the beginning of the new editions directing readers to a Web site for more information. I think the other big point in this book is teaching teens to feel good about themselves even if they have to wear a back brace, have pimples, have a small chest, etc.. Learning to love yourself is especially relevant in today’s society where low self esteems seems so rampant among our young women.
“Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret” – Probably my favorite among all the Blume books, I think this one still really rings true. The settings don’t seem dated, and I think girls are still extremely concerned about their breasts developing and starting their periods. I’m wondering if this text was actually updated because I swear I remember them using a belt for the maxi pad and not sticky strips like are used today. (Wikipedia says they did update in 2006.) I think fourth and fifth graders would still find this book relevant. (This was one with a wait list at our local library so somebody is reading it.)
“Then Again, Maybe I won’t” – This was the boy book in the group. You may not have read it unless you had a brother. The boy’s father hits it big with an invention and this working-class, nice Italian family moves to a big house with a maid. The boy is obsessed with his neighbor’s sister and watches her undress at night. The big teen theme in this book is dealing with nocturnal emissions, which I’m sure both genders are still curious about.
However, I think one of the smaller themes in this book is actually more relevant today. The book examines how privilege can mess up kids’ values. The working-class boy is stunned by how unappreciative and lazy these affluent kids are. This book might be an eye-opener to some of our teens today.
“Forever” - The Biggie!! I did not read “Forever” – the infamous book where the teens actually do it – as a teen. I remember being offered the book in the locker room of my middle school. I was curious but was way too chicken to borrow it and take it home. I was certain my mother would know what the book was about as soon as she saw the title. I apparently gave my mother more credit than she deserved. She told me recently she didn’t even know “Are you There God? It’s Me, Margaret” was about getting your period.” (Quote from my mother: “I wondered why you never asked me any questions about periods.”)
For those of you who were certain that your mom would find out too and never read it, here is the gist of the plot: Senior high school girl meets senior high school boy at a FONDUE party. (OK that part is dated.) They fall madly in love and eventually after several months go all the way. The girl’s grandmother sends her literature about getting on birth control, and she goes to a Planned Parenthood clinic to go on the Pill. (Blume has a note to readers in the front of the book that with the advent of AIDS, condoms would be a better choice.)
The Equal Rights Amendment grandmother is a little dated and the fact the couple can get legally drunk at 18 will also seem odd to today’s teens.
At the time, this book was so scandalous because they had sex, but, hey, at least they thought they were in love. At least they were in a relationship. This reads more like a college relationship now. High school kids seem to have sex so randomly now. Maybe the book would help a teen realize that if they’re going to do it (which I’m definitely not saying they should), they should at least think they are in love and not just do it because they are bored or because they have low self esteem and are seeking acceptance.
I think this book would help teen girls understand why they are feeling so strongly about a boy and that those feelings might change even if they don’t think they ever will. I think this book would help explain a lot to young women about the sex act and the emotional responsibilities it brings, but it’s so real I hate to believe they would need that knowledge in high school. (But I guess some do.)
What do you remember about the Judy Blume books? Did you read “Forever” as a teen? Did your teens read them? Did they relate? Do you think they are still relevant today? Do kids just start reading them younger in our jaded world?