If you ever convinced yourself, with no real evidence, that you had scoliosis, chances are you were a Judy Blume fan. I know I wasn’t the only kid who read Deenie, the story of a beautiful teenage girl who develops scoliosis (a curvature of the spine, as all Blume fans know) and became totally paranoid that I had it as well.
I went through a phase of getting my mother to check out my back on a regular basis (although considering my mum was a primary school teacher and not a medical professional, I’m not sure why I thought she’d be able to diagnose a serious spinal condition) and spent far too much time worrying about how I’d cope with a giant back brace.
But even though she made me a paranoid, back-measuring wreck for a while, I loved Judy Blume. The first one I read was the classic Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, which is basically The One About Periods (and also bras). All of Judy’s books were about an Issue. So Iggy’s House was The One About Racism; Then Again, Maybe I Won’t was The One About Erections (and Wet Dreams); Tiger Eyes was The One about Bereavement and Forever…well, we all know what Forever was about.
If you went to primary school in the ’80s (and probably the ’90s too), copies of Forever were surreptitiously passed around, with attention drawn to the “dirty bits”. It’s over 25 years since I last read Forever, and I’m pretty sure I’d find it pretty tame by today’s standards – apart from the whole “calling his penis Ralph” part, that’s still incredibly disturbing. But at the time, it was dynamite – it was basically the only book aimed at teenagers (and read by 12 year olds) in which the heroine actually had sex.
In another writer’s hands, all these issue-based stories would have been preachy and boring, but Blume’s books were always totally gripping, whether she was writing about bullying (Blubber) or divorce (Just as Long As We’re Together). Her characters felt like real people, not cardboard cut-outs who were just there to illustrate whatever big issue she was talking about.
Which is probably why literally every woman I know read and loved Judy Blume as a kid. So I was genuinely surprised to read that the new film adaptation of Tiger Eyes, which premiered last week in the US, was the very first screen adaptation of a Blume book. In a world in which the Twilight and Harry Potter books were being adapted for the big screen before the final books in the series had been published, it seems kind of insane that in over 40 years, no one has adapted the books of such a beloved author. But there you go.
I have to admit I was a bit disappointed that the book chosen for the movies was Tiger Eyes, probably my least favourite of all the Blume books (the bereavement theme was even more grim than usual, and it was set in New Mexico, not Blume’s usual east coast, urban locations). But if the film reminds people of Judy’s greatness, then I won’t complain. Her books were the first I ever read about ordinary teenage girls, and as someone who now writes books about ordinary teenage girls myself, I owe her an awful lot.
So what about you? Did you pass around a copy of Forever? Did Margaret inspire you to chant ‘I Must, I Must, I Must Increase My Bust’? And what other beloved teen authors would you like to see revived?