Chapter 2: She's At That Age
Well, this was a big ol' stroll down memory lane. I was a huge Judy Blume fan back in the day, and this book was one I read over, and over, and over. The fact that it's an enduring book was clear to me when I tried to find an image of this cover, which adorned the edition I owned (and can no longer find, sadly). It took a heckuva long time going through different covers on a used book site before I could find this specific one. Clearly this is a book that has continued to gain readership over the decades, with the cover evolving to keep pace with the times.
As Lizzie Skurnick says in her intro to this chapter, "If childhood is a long, leisurely car ride during which one has all the time in the world to take in sights and pester parents about when you will get there, puberty comes with the brunt force of a Driver's Ed instructor who places you behind the wheel and gazes sourly at your attempts to park."
Well put, Ms. Skurnick.
Margaret Simon is nearly 12 and has just moved from NYC to the suburbs. Understandably, she's nervous about making new friends, so when Nancy invites her to join a secret club, Margaret is delighted--until she finds out it's about which boys they like, buying bras, and horrors--swearing to give details of when they get their periods. Margaret is terrified she'll be the very last. What a dreadful fate.
But it's also (and I'd forgotten this) about Margaret's religious upbringing, or lack thereof. With interfaith parents who have told her she can choose when she grows up, Margaret is off the hook for boring things like Sunday school, yet is stymied when her new friends want to know if she's joining the Y or the JCC.
It's an intertwining story of a girl trying to grow up the best way she can, while under peer pressure for things she doesn't necessarily have control over, and also under pressure from concerned grandparents who want her to choose the "right" religion.
As Meg Cabot notes in her essay on the book in Shelf Discovery, "The most delightful thing to me about Judy Blume books is that unlike so many other children's books, they never feature a sage adult offering the younger characters wise counsel in their time of need...Judy Blume's books aren't 'issue' driven, never offering readers a 'message' or 'lesson'; and they don't have pat, sugarcoated Hollywood endings to leave readers feeling satisfied."
That in a nutshell probably explains why I was so crazy about these books as an early adolescent. Not to mention the early subversiveness of preteens who are starting to be aware that they might have an opinion on things:
"A week before the pageant Alan Gordon told Mr. Benedict that he wasn't going to sing the Christmas songs because it was against his religion. Then Lisa Murphy raised her hand and said that she wasn't going to sing the Hanukkah songs because it was against her religion.
"Mr. Benedict explained that songs were for everyone and had nothing at all to do with religion, but the next day Alan brought in a note from home and from then on he marched but he didn't sing. Lisa sang when we marched but she didn't even move her lips during the Hanukkah songs."
I'm glad I had the chance to revisit this book, although I confess I'm pretty sure I'll never read it again. It's a fine book and I would still recommend it to girls at this age, but it doesn't hold us as well for adults, the way Harriet the Spy did.