Judy Blume is going to be at YALC this year. I can’t believe I’ve actually typed that sentence. GODDESS JUDY BLUME WILL BE AT YALC AND SO WILL I. I’m quite excited. When I was not quite a teenager, there was not a whole heap of Teen/YA books waiting on the shelves of bookshops and libraries to help us navigate the trials and pitfalls of growing up. But there was Judy Blume, and thank all that is good for her and her books full of normal everyday girls living with their normal everyday families and having normal everyday worries. These were characters it was easy to relate to and understand, and the stories were cunningly packed with advice that we could take and use. And the stories themselves were brilliant.
That’s how I remember Judy Blume, but I admit that the amount of time that’s elapsed since I read them can be measured not only in years but in decades. Keris Stainton’s idea of a Judy Blume read along leading up to YALC had me hopping with excitement; I have a burning desire to reconnect with books that were so important to me, and possibly to read some I missed the first time around. Six weeks, six books (you can find the whole schedule and more here at Keris’ blog).
Last week was the first week, and fittingly the read-along started with probably Judy’s most famous book, Forever. It truly is the ‘classic novel of first love, first sex and first heartbreak’ as proclaimed on the back of the book. It also accounts for the fact that very many girls and women are unable to hear the name Ralph without sniggering. Reading Forever was a rite of passage. I read it hidden away inside another book, sitting on my Pierrot beanbag in the corner of my room, hoping my nan wouldn’t ask what I was reading. (I can’t remember now why my nan was there at the time). It had a reputation for being something you didn’t show your parents, and I recall being quite wide-eyed at all the sex stuff. But what I remembered most was the loving relationship between Michael and Katherine.
Re-reading it has been a brilliant experience. The relationship still comes across as strong and supportive, although Michael is not so smooth as I remember him! Katherine is even more wonderful though, and her mature approach to sex is something to celebrate. The writing is so straightforward and clear, that even moments of embarrassment are handled as a normal part of physical relationship. Periods, contraception, premature ejaculation, how unsatisfying sex can be, and how good it feels to orgasm are all dealt with in a positive and reassuring way. It also shows that STIs and pregnancy can be the unintended result of sex and that being responsible for your own sexual health is the only way. It’s also warm and gently funny. I love this book.
I’m going to press this book into the hands of my eldest niece, tell her that she doesn’t need to keep it hidden, and if she has any questions she’s too embarrassed to ask her (totally cool) mum then I’m here for her. And if I don’t know the answer, I’ll ask Judy Blume.
This week’s book is Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret. I’m hoping I enjoy it even a fraction of how much I did last time I read it. Join in. There’s even a special hashtag on Twitter – #readalongralph – well, we can’t be grown up all the time.