Book Reviewed: Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume, edited by Jennifer O'Connell
This last weekend at a family get-together, my older cousin asked what I was reading. When I mentioned the title above, she smiled and said, "I lived that book." An avid Judy Blume reader when she was younger, this same cousin gave me my first Judy Blume book when I was seven. I then went on to become a Judy Blume fanatic. That's the amazing thing about Judy Blume: she's one of those authors that people love to pass onto the next generation. It's amazing that books she wrote thirty, forty years ago still have the resonance they do today.
When people ask who my most influential writers are, I name off the usuals - Fitzgerald, Roethke, etc. But they're always surprised when I say that Judy Blume is the most important writer of my life. When I was seven and that cousin gave me Superfudge for Christmas, it changed my life. I read that book and couldn't believe that someone could make me say, "Me too!" in that way. Suddenly, I knew that I had to start writing; I had to start forming connections through words and stories. People laugh at this anecdote, but it's completely true and not particularly funny to me. Judy Blume's characters reflected my own experience so completely that they carved out the rest of my life, turning me into a lifelong reader and writer.
That's why I was so excited to see that this book existed. Judy Blume is one of those writers that binds people together. I can meet someone I find annoying or don't particularly like, but if she mentions an affinity for Judy Blume, I suddenly treat her like she's my best friend. None of my other favorite writers are quite like that. I assume it's because people become hooked to her during their most impressionable years, at a time when it's not always easy to feel understood or to find books that speak to your experience.
So anyway, I finally checked Everything I Needed to Know out from the library and read it. It was an overall enjoyable experience, even though some of the essays rang much more true for me than others. A lot of people love Judy Blume for books like Deenie or Forever..., which explored off-limit topics like sex or masturbation. Most of these essays were about those two books, and since those are two of the only Judy Blume books I've never read, I couldn't totally connect to them. I was more into Judy Blume for her looks into how families and friendships work. For this reason, my favorite essays in the book were Megan Crane's "A Long Time Ago, We Used to Be Friends," about a close friendship that eventually ends and a reflection on Judy Blume's Just as Long as We're Together (one of my favorite Blume books, I must add); an exploration on family upheaval and moving away by Melissa Senate called "Then Again, Maybe I..."; and Kristin Harmel's essay on divorce and It's Not the End of the World, "It Wasn't the End of the World."
My favorite essay, for obvious reasons, was Cara Lockwood's "Superfudged," about the trials of being an older sibling. This essay hit the closest to home for me. When I was little, I hated being the older sibling. I thought my little brother, a tiny charmer if there ever was one, got more attention than I did. It seemed like no one else realized how annoying he could be. At the same time, though, I loved him and looked out for him. No one else was allowed to hurt him expect me, dammit. That's why Superfudge, the story of Peter Hatcher and his annoying little brother, made such a huge impact on me as a first-grader. Peter Hatcher had the exact same problems I did! In her contribution to the book ("The Importance of ABC's," which I wasn't particularly fond of overall), Kayla Perrin hits the nail on the head of what it means to read Judy Blume: "Her stories touched me right in the center of my emotional core. I read her books knowing that someone understood the trials and tribulations of grade school kids, and even more importantly, someone cared....And that's huge when you're young and often feel alone."
I often found the writing in this book to be a little weak or overly naval-gazing. I also wished it hadn't focused on the "being a girl" aspect and featured some essays by male writers as well. (Also, no one here even mentioned one of my all-time favorite Judy Blume books, the fantastic Here's to You, Rachel Robinson). But overall, it was fun to spend time with people who love Judy Blume as much as I do, people who found in her the understanding and care that will continue to make her a perrenial favorite among children. I know that if I or my friends or my close family members have kids, they'll all be receiving copies of Superfudge as soon as they hit grade school.