No one writes early-life humiliation better than Judy Blume, whose birthday we celebrate today. From periods and sexual fumbling to bathroom emergencies, masturbation, and awkwardly timed erections, from bullying to “the first time,” she covers it all, unashamedly. And she often gives us an education before anyone else does. In our abstinence-only era, her books are so gorgeously accurate and honest that it’s not a bad education to get.
As a tribute to the queen of teen gawkiness, I went to Facebook and email to ask friends about the most embarrassing moments they’d had reading, encountering, and in some cases protesting Judy Blume and her work. Here are a few of the best, funniest, and most poignant responses. And yes, Margaret reigns supreme, even more than Forever.
Are you there, Grandma?
“My eldest brother asked my grandmother, a small town librarian, for a book to read. He was seven or eight or maybe nine years old. Having never read the book, she lent him Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. He was understandably perplexed and perhaps lightly traumatized by the passages wherein the protagonist first gets her period. He did not just cry, apparently, he wept. My grandmother also weeps, from laughter, when we bring it up at holidays.”
“I tried to get Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret removed from the library because I thought it questioned the existence of God. I didn’t read it until years later, far past the time when my fundamentalism had lapsed.”
Are you there, Mom?
“My mom panicked when she saw Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret in the stack of books I was checking out during our bi-weekly trip to the library, grabbed it, told me she didn’t think I was ‘ready’ for it, and wouldn’t let me check it out. I was nine. I began howling about CENSORSHIP, and my mom’s face was bright red… my best friend’s grandmother was the librarian, and she pretended not to notice my tantrum. I had a big public meltdown, embarrassing us both, and then borrowed it from a friend and read it anyway (of course). A few weeks later she had the period talk with me, for which I had nothing but disdain, because I already learned it all from Judy Blume.”
John, Yoko, Judy:
“Once, as a child, I saw the cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Two Virgins album — the one where they’re naked — in one of my dad’s books about The Beatles. It stuck with me, and I became sort of paralyzed when it came to discussing sex or sex-adjacent topics with my parents. I never let my mom give me ‘the talk.’ This is particularly funny because my mother is a maternity nurse. I got my period and basically repressed all the questions I had about it. Maybe a year later, I read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. It answered so many questions, and allowed me to feel more comfortable accepting my own burgeoning womanhood and sexuality. ”
Mom, what’s a period?
Karla Holloway sent me this passage about her then-six-year-old daughter, now an astrophysicist, from her memoir Bookmarks:
I heard her voice shouting out from the recesses of her closet. “Mom, what’s a period? “You know what this is Ayana, a mark you put at the end of sentence to show that the thought or idea has come to a conclusion”…. “No,” she said. “No it isn’t, it’s something that drips.” I put down my iron and came directly to the closet. “What are you reading?” … Sitting in her closet on her yellow beanbag, she was holding a book by Judy Blume.
Then again, maybe I shouldn’t have:
“I was nine and asked my mom what a ‘wet dream’ was and she swiftly took the Then Again, Maybe I Won’t away from me. I should have just asked a friend.”
“My awkward Judy Blume moment would have to be the time my friends, who didn’t want to read the book Forever, had me read it and circle the page numbers that depicted any sex. I must have been 12 or 13 years old.”
The mere existence of Forever:
Forever elicited the, um, shortest and most frequent responses:
“The boyfriend in Forever naming his penis…” “Ralph, in forever.” “RALPH.” “FOREVER.”
“There’s a masturbation scene in there in which Margaret described getting pleasure by pressing some sort of bump. Reading it I thought, hmm, that sounds interesting, I’m going to try that. And I proceeded to locate a bump in the groin area and started pressing it between my fingers, and I was thinking, I’m not really feeling anything. Only later did I realize that the bump that I had located was a lymph node…”
Starring Judy Blume, as herself:
“When I was about 11 or so, I was in Shakespeare & Co on 81st St, buying Tiger Eyes. The woman in front of me on line looked at my book and said, ‘I wrote that book. I’m Judy Blume. Would you like me to sign your book?’ Now, I’d been a Judy Blume fan since I was seven, and this woman didn’t look like the picture on all the books. I thought she was lying to me, so I said no. Then, when she paid, she used a credit card, and I saw it really was her. I was super-embarrassed, but somehow I got the courage up to say, ‘OK, you can sign it if you want to.’ And she did.”