Quick – name Jeff’s girlfriend in It’s Not the End of the World. It’s Mary Louise Rumberger, smelling of Noxzema and namesake of the minor key ballad, “Mary Louise, Please.” Or how about Deenie Fenner’s scoliosis doctor, Dr. Henry Kliner, who looks exactly like Mr. Clean. Or the mints that Tony Miglione’s mother—she allows Mr. Hoober to call her Carol because Carmella is too hard to pronounce—gives to the halitosis-ridden Miss Orenberg, poor dear.
I’ve been reading and re-reading Judy Blume since about 1978, and I can’t think of an author who has created more real and human characters. A young reader can grow up with Judy Blume, although I’d skip the Fudge books and head right into Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. She’s never preachy, even in Iggie’s House, which could have been a mere Afterschool Special instead of a gum-cracking masterpiece.
I can’t think of an author who has created more real and human characters.
Blumeites will all have their favorite moments, and who I am to dispute which you might choose? Could it be when Tony Miglione gets hollered at by Bernice the waitress, because they leave her tip in a milkshake glass? Those pennies buy her a loaf of bread. Could it be when Karen in It’s Not the End of the World eats a piece of the mocha cake her mother threw on the floor? When Sheila sits on the toilet seat that she covered in toothpaste instead of the real target, her sister Libby? The sweaters made expressly by Grandma for Margaret Simon? Woohoo – Michael and Katherine?
My literary memory for Judy Blume is stellar, and probably because I always read her books more than once. I live in the same suburbs of Northern New Jersey where much of the action of her 70s books takes place. I can feel these characters walking the streets of Maplewood or delivering the Jersey Journal.
My own personal best moment is in Blubber, when picked-on Linda Fischer submits to her bullies.
“We made Linda say I am Blubber, the smelly whale of class 206. We made her say it before she could use the toilet in the Girls’ Room, before she could get a drink at the fountain, before she ate her lunch and before she got on the bus to go home. It was easy to get her to do it. I think she would have done anything we said. There are some people who just make you want to see how far you can go.
Two days later she was saying I am Blubber, the smelly whale of class 206 without anyone forcing her to.”
I’ve made all three of my kids read this book and especially this scene, just so they don’t become victims. Or victimizers.
Judy Blume’s new book In the Unlikely Event, is a novel based on the true story of the three plane crashes that occurred in Elizabeth, NJ, in 1952. I’ll read it, and it won’t even matter if I don’t like it. The whole universe of Judy Blume is still inside me, funny and sad, childhood cruel and childhood blameless.
Sunday, May 31, 2:30 pm
BookCon event in conversation with Jennifer Weiner
Jacob Javits Center, 655 West 34th Street
Monday, June 1, 5 pm
Launch event in conversation Mayor J. Christian Bollwage of the City of Elizabeth
City Council Chambers, City Hall, 50 Winfield Scott Plaza.
Free and open to the public.
Tuesday, June 2, 8 pm
New York, NY
92nd Street Y “92Y Talks” event in conversation with Samantha Bee
Kaufmann Hall, 1395 Lexington Ave