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Why Judy Blume's novels are still the go-to coming of age narratives today

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Five decades after her first novel was published, Judy Blume’s reign as queen of taboo teen topics and coming of age narratives is far from over – and there are so many reasons why the now 81-year-old’s legacy is here to stay.

Blume has never been one to shy away from tackling honest topics in her novels for young teens, writing about everything from families and friendship to puberty, sex, and death. Blume faced criticism and backlash at the time of publishing for her frank and open writing on such off-limits topics, especially as the first writer of her time to really do so. 

But, today on her 81st birthday, it is time to take a moment to appreciate everything that Blume did for young people in her writing heyday, and has continued to do right through to the 21st century.

Image credit: Lindsay Beyerstein on Flickr

 

As one of the first authors to tackle the topics that she did, Blume set in motion a new framework for children’s and teen literature with the publication of her popular novels such as Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Freckle Juice and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

Blume’s books have now sold more than 85 million copies worldwide and her success seems to only be growing with passing time, since it was confirmed in October last year that the movie rights for Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret had been sold, just as Tiger Eyes was adapted for the big screen in 2012.

For many young, prepubescent girls in the 70s and 80s especially, exposure to these kinds of topics would have been incredibly limited and for many, this may have been the first time they had seen any sort of focus on them at all. Never before had they been exposed to such open and honest accounts of what it is like to be a young girl growing up, getting their period for the first time or dealing with difficult school and familial relationships.

Even now, young girls are far more likely to want to learn about themselves from a medium such as fictional books than to have what they may deem as embarrassing conversations with the adults in their lives. Blume gives these girls the chance to explore what is happening to them in a safe and engaging manner, whilst also providing the enjoyment of reading a well-written book about characters that are the same age as them.

For me personally, I remember my mum buying me the books for Christmas one year when I was younger. She told me how she had grown up with them as her favourite books and so she thought I would love them too. In fact, besides Jacqueline Wilson, they are the only books I remember reading at that age that were so open and direct. My favourite was Blubber, but Deenie and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret also stick in my memory. Considering how many books I have read since then, it is pretty remarkable that the experience of reading them for the first time remains so vivid.

Perhaps it is time for all the current Judy Blume fans to dig out their old copies of her masterpieces, if they kept them in their treasured book collection all this time, or pick up a second hand copy, and re-read them to see if reality turned out the way it was depicted and divulged to a pre-teen. Then, it is probably time to do as my own mother did and pass on the legacy to the next generation, if Blume’s success is to continue on for another half a century.

The issues explored by Blume were relevant when they were published in each of her books since her debut in 1969, and they are still relevant today. Young people still want and need to read these topics, and if they are 'taboo' that probably only makes them want to read them more. While there is so much uncertainty in the current climate, there is one thing that has and will continue to remain consistent throughout time, and that is how it feels to grow up.

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