Growing up, most of
my buddies learned about women through their older
brothers' sexual foibles or from the issues of Juggs
and Hustler crammed beneath their dad's
workbench. Me, I didn't have a brother. And Dad had
all his porn transferred to microfiche years earlier,
just in case of dry rot or sudden thermonuclear war.
So I was forced to
learn about sex from books—but not the standard
"this is your glans and this is her labia"-style books.
Oh, no, something much more cryptic, much more enigmatic.
Something much more...well, sexy.
One day when I was
seven, as I was about to mark "2:30 Snooping Through
Sister's Room" off my afternoon checklist—I
had a full day of rifling through my parents' closet
to get to, after all—I stumbled across her collection
of Judy Blume novels and picked one up called Are
You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. It fell
right open to a certain page, with a certain passage
It was like biting
into the Forbidden Fruit. My brain squirmed. My eyeballs
wobbled. My loins did something else all together.
And just like that, it was all over for me. I was
officially going to Hell.
Blume has sold over
70 million kids' books and has guided three generations
of girls through the pains of puberty—mostly
8 to 11-year-olds huddled over her paperbacks in clubhouses
and in the backs of school buses. The titles are legendary,
and many are over three decades old: Tales of a
Fourth Grade Nothing, Tiger Eyes, Here's To You, Rachel
"Her books have endured
for as long as they have because they appeal to the
universal themes of children needing to fit in and
be validated in their experiences," explains Clinical
Psychologist Mark N. Gaskill, Ph.D. "Adolescents live
in a very private world of uncertainty. They want
to be understood; they want to feel 'normal'; they
want to be accepted and taken quite seriously in their
concerns, hopes, and fears. It is in this context...that
Judy Blume becomes a significant voice in children's
To me, though, Blume
was more than a voice—she was an oracle, a professor
and a demented carnal navigator, leading me through
a dark, pre-teen labyrinth of budding breasts, blossoming
womanhood and—as the novel Forever,
the obscene pinnacle of my sordid search, showed me—actual
Are You There,
God? It's Me, Margaret (or Estas Ahi
Dios Soy Yo Margaret, as my horny little
hermanos in Mexico called it) was first published
in 1970 but still packs a potent pubescent punch.
It details the growing pains of 12-year-old Margaret
Simon, who is just starting 6th grade in
a new town. (All Blume protagonists, I soon discovered,
had just moved to a new town and were under- [or over-]
developed middle school females named Corkey or Davey
or Wilmadeene; who were either too fat, too thin,
bit their nails, had braces or zits or bad hair or
big feet; who were dealing with an overprotective
[or kindly or dying or dead] grandma and an alcoholic
[or kindly or dying or dead] dad. Ad infinitum.)
On page 6 of Margaret,
Margaret and her pal Nancy engage in a profound meditative
discourse on "being flat" and wanting to look like
the girls in Playboy. Now, I had seen
a Playboy once before—my friend
Chris' dad actually HAD that proverbial workbench
stash, and it had housed literally hundreds of Playboys
(and, distressingly enough for poor Chris, one Playgirl).
But I had never seen the libidinous publication seriously
discussed in pre-teen literature before! My heart
leapt—at last, a scholar I could relate to!
In fact, a healthy
chunk of Margaret was devoted to what
up until now I had only lingered over in Sears catalogues—brassieres.
Gro-Bras, Double A's, dacron, nylon, lace; how to
buy one, how to stuff one and the humiliation at not
having the correct one. In a moment of almost unbearable
homoeroticism, Margaret and her friends felt each
other up to make sure they were all wearing bras,
as they chanted, "I must, I must, I must increase
My brain threatened
to explode from the pressure.
It got better. Page
7, they practice kissing on pillows. Page 8, they
trade beauty secrets.
Page 25, more stuff concerning boobies. Then,
on page 30, the mother lode—"Did you get it?"
Get WHAT, I thought?
"Your period," one
of the characters clarified.
Period of WHAT, dammit?
Stop these infernal word games!
Very slowly, a puzzle
began to unlock. Beneath the permed bangs, charm bracelets
and pastel skirts of 5th grade chicks,
something foul and sinister was churning. Margaret
and her mother spoke candidly to each other about
(shudder) "menstruation" and the (shudder shudder)
"internal protection" she should use, including pads
that were called (shudder shudder shudder)... "TEENAGE
Did this mean that
conversations like Margaret's were going on IN MY
as I sat before the
TV, ignorant, chuckling at re-runs of He-Man
while age-old secrets of sex and blood were exchanged
right behind my back? Blume's writing was indeed terrifyingly
casual, making this delinquent physiology seem almost—ick!—NORMAL.
More normal, anyway, than my future ordeals involving
Mr. Carr the Health teacher stiffly lecturing me on
the cervix or mom and dad cornering me in the hallway,
waving picture books, uttering threats like "sperm"
and "zygote" through their toothy, manic grins.
"Children need to
know that they are not alone going through these changes,"
remarks Gaskill, "and that is exactly why these books
are so validating to read. I would wholeheartedly
recommend Blume's books for any young woman approaching
maturity, [and] while her works are written for females,
her characters deal with universal childhood dramas
that could appeal to both boys and girls alike."
And appeal to me they
most assuredly did. Although we boys were definitely
interested in girls, our literature certainly didn't
spend expansive passages DWELLING upon them—we
had gooey aliens and mystery-solving siblings to worry
about; we had crusades and conflicts and PLOTS. Blume's
stories were essentially plot-less; almost, in fact,
stream-of-consciousness. Blume's protagonists had not a single superpower or magical
crystal or even high-powered firearm among them. They
weren't exceptional at all. Instead, those lusty little
narcissists spent most of their time in front of a
mirror, trying to FIT IN rather than be exceptional.
If there WAS literature
out there about schoolboys gathering 'round to probe
each other's jimmies and sing little songs to implore
their pubes to sprout, it certainly wasn't being offered
in MY book club. Thus, I was riveted.
Perhaps sensing the
ever-growing "pervert-brother" contingent of her readership,
Blume attempted to write from an adolescent boy's
point-of-view in Then Again, Maybe I Won't:
smiled and offered me an olive.... I wonder if I'll
ever have a wet dream. "What's for supper?"
I asked Grandma.
You had to hand it
to her, Blume was crafty—you almost had to read
it twice to catch it. By deftly hiding all the juicy
parts in between the olives and the grandmas, Blume
suckered me into reading entire novels. As a result,
I quite inadvertently began to enjoy her stories,
which occasionally included a startling revelation
or two—like, girls were just as confused and
unhappy as we were, as well as things I saw and heard
every day but thought I'd never see in print—a
girl with a back brace discovers her "special spot"
(Deenie); a fat 4th grader
gang-stripped by fellow female classmates (Blubber);
and boys who named their penises "Ralph" (Forever).
(And although I felt it was a little premature to
officially christen my own little lieutenant, Mr.
Shempy and I were on our merry little way in no time
"Blume doesn't tend
to include the moralizing 'last chapter,'" praises
Karen Farver, head of the Barnes & Noble children's
department in Wilmington, North Carolina. "The chapter
that says, 'This is what you've learned from reading
this book, who's bad, and who's good....' She just
tends to ease questions some girls may have while
reading the book."
Indeed, in Blume's
world there are no good or evil characters, parents
are often of little help and the ugly girl is still
unpopular at the end. In the minds of many adults,
this made Blume a very dangerous character. Top among
Blume's offenses was the daring supposition that sex
is NOT always met with punishment and disaster—which,
to many decency crusaders, made Blume's works no better
than the infamous "Playboy Forum" fantasies.
Worst of all, Blume was talking to their kids about
things they had chosen not to, and she was taking
a morally neutral stance.
This "neutral" stance,
of course, EMPOWERS adolescents by waking them up
and making them ask questions of the text in order
to draw their own conclusions. Nonetheless, Blume
is one of America's most-banned authors—Blubber
alone was removed from library shelves
more than 13 times between 1982 and 1992, according
to the National Coalition Against Censorship.
To this day, Blume
stands as the only author unafraid to tell childhood
like it is—masturbation, bullies, bathroom rape,
bad hair, big feet, small tits and all. She was that
rarest of things—an adult who UNDERSTOOD. No
writer disturbed me so habitually or affected me so
So, here's to you,