Summer of “Shelf Discovery” Week 2: Chapter 2


Welcome to week 2 of my summer reading project, the Summer of Shelf Discovery–reading a chapter of Lizzie Skurnick’s reading memoir a week, along with a book she writes about in that chapter. (or a book that fits the theme from that time period, from this time period, from a genre, whatever.)

This week we’re talking about Chapter 2 ,”She’s at That Age: Girls on the Verge,” about the whiplash of puberty.

The books from the chapter are:

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret
by Judy Blume,
Blubber by Judy Blume,
Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume,
Then Again, Maybe I Won’t by Judy Blume,
Sister of the Bride by Beverly Cleary,
The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger,
The Long Secret by Louise Fitzhugh,
A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle,
And You Give Me a Pain, Elaine by Stella Pevsner,
Caroline by Willo Davis Roberts,
To Take a Dare by Paul Zindel and Crescent Dragonwagon

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret is the most famous of this bunch. I always thought of Then Again Maybe I Won’t as the boy version of Margaret. Hers was about periods and breasts, his about erections and wet dreams. Of all the above books, these are the two that seem the most concerned with the actual nuts and bolts (so to speak, sorry, hard–oh, rats–difficult to avoid puns in this chapter, no?) of puberty. This is probably why they remain some of the most banned and most widely read books from this chapter.

(Or is this just me? Are other books from above more widely known, except maybe for the other Blume books, Blubber and Tiger Eyes?)

I re-read Are You There, God? (entry here) and read Beverly Cleary’s Sister of the Bride for the first time (entry to come later this week). I think it’s interesting that Margaret is most remembered for the period and bust stuff, but not for the religion, which is about half the book. Meg Cabot (author of The Princess Diaries, and guest writer on this book in Chapter 2) likes how it ends:

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.

I don’t agree on either count. Blume’s books _are_ largely issue driven, though she does a good job of making the book and characters about more than the issue–Are You There, God? is about girl puberty and religion; Then Again is about boy puberty and social class; Deenie is about scoliosis and parental pressure; Blubber is about bullying.

Also, the ending of Margaret didn’t leave me satisfied. I felt like Margaret got her period, turned in her letter and bam, the book was over. Cabot commends the Blume characters because they “simply go on living. Just like the rest of us.” Yet I felt that somewhere between the period and paper and the rest of her life would have been a nicer place to end, rather than living just to her first period and that paper.

I liked revisiting Are You There God?, and really liked reading Sister of the Bride, though it often had the feel of a 60’s television screenplay; I could hear the actors chirping their lines in my head.

In addition to Cabot’s take on the universality of Margaret, Jennifer Weiner (author of Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, and a lot of famous books) writes about Blubber, and Skurnick writes about all the others. Some of them I’d read, others I hadn’t, but after reading the chapter itself, I find myself needing to re-read Blubber because of Weiner’s fascinating take on it, and Deenie for Chapter 5 because I DO NOT remember Deenie having a “special spot” (though of course I remember her full name was Wilmadeen and she was named after Natalie Woods’ character in Splendor in the Grass and both of them cut their hair off.)

What did you read of these books, or other books about girls (or boys) on the verge? What did you think of Skurnick’s, Cabot’s and Weiner’s take on these books?

Other entries:

Summer of Shelf Discovery reading project

Shelf Discovery Week 1

15 Responses to “Summer of “Shelf Discovery” Week 2: Chapter 2”

  1. Amy Says:

    I think Blume writes for her audience. Meaning, she writes what a 12-year-old girl would want to read. Nothing wrong with that, but while some books are timeless and can be revisited and loved as an adult (I’m still sighing with joy over Harriet the Spy), Margaret just isn’t as interesting from an adult’s perspective.

  2. Susan Says:

    Maybe I’ll make a trip up the tower this afternoon to fetch Margaret and reread it tonight (it’s deathly slow at the library this summer). It’s interesting that you brought up the religion in Margaret, because it’s the discussions of religion in The Long Secret that have stayed with me, not that poor Beth Ellen hadn’t been prepared for her period and needed Janie to talk sensibly to her about it.

    Anyway, those are the only two books from the list that I read back then. Oh, and Deenie. I’m kind of appalled now by the number of Judy Blumes that I missed between those two and Forever and I’m thinking I must have been too busy reading the Alastair Maclean and Emilie Loring books that were sent my way when my relatives were through with them.

  3. Jennifer Reese Says:

    I echo your feelings about Margaret. When I read them in 6th grade or so, I thought Then Again and Margaret were a perfectly matched pair. One for him, one for her. One about what came out of his adolescent body, one about what came out of hers. I never loved them. I approached them as “service” books padded out with unnecessary story. I wanted to reread Margaret, but she was checked out of the library, so I’m halfway through Then Again and I actually like it better as an adult than I did as a girl. I’m more interested in the story, whereas back then I was really interested in the useful, almost clinical, non-sexy sex information I knew was planted in its pages. The story is, of course, a little farfetched and the characters drawn with a broad brush and the issues are fairly clearly flagged, but it’s pretty good. I may have to reread Forever next.

  4. girldetective Says:

    Susan, I think that the Judy Blumes we read as kids are related to how old we were–I never got around to Tiger Eyes as I’d stopped reading blume when it came out. But I remember owning a copy of Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, where her face was so scrunched and ugly on the cover it reminded me of a monkey’s.

  5. crystal Says:

    (I still haven’t gotten the Shelf Discovery but it is now on my library request list.) This week I read Margaret and Blubber. Feeling very much like how others were feeling about Harriet with Blubber. I agree about the end not being satisfying. I don’t believe Jill didn’t seem to really have grown much from her experience; she more or less persevered through it and then moved on. Which is realistic and what one has to do to survive middleschool yet I (and maybe because I am a parent now) really wanted there to be more of an aha moment where she feels disgusted with her own behavior. After reading it I immediately decided this one would be one I would not encourage my girls to read -at least without my own added disclaimers. ;)

    Rereading Margaret now brought back a mirriad of memories; so fun looking back in retrospect to those ultra emotional days when I was going through puberty and feeling like everything was sooo life changing. So fun to look back and laugh. I moved to a new town and school the beginning of fifth grade and it is funny how much I related to.

  6. crystal Says:

    Also the Gods & Monsters book this month, Godless, seemed a weirdly fitting book to read right after Margaret. Jason is like the boy’s version of Margaret set alittle later -summer before sophomore year of highschool.

  7. girldetective Says:

    Jason is way more of a jerk than Margaret, who’s pretty sweet, but his quest for a personal belief is very like hers.

  8. shannon Says:

    ditto about Deenie’s ’special spot’ - i do NOT remember that! and speaking of being an obtuse preteen, my cousin recently told me that the mention of rubbers littering the end of a street in a judy blume book (think it was then again maybe) made her think it had been raining and everyone left their rubber boots there!

    this week i re-read Blubber and i was appalled! i did NOT remember Jill as being so off-the-cuff nasty and cold hearted - i remembered her as more of a bystander (a la barbara colorossa) but no, she’s a full fledged participant. when she finally intervenes in the bullying, it’s due to her stubborness, not because she has an ounce of empathy for Blubber.

    in contrast, the other fat girl tale - Cat Ate My Gymsuit - came off as too ‘nice’ - all the taunting comes from herself (and her dad). where’s her bully? every school/class has at least one mean person. the only sort-of shocking thing was when her friend told her she was too fat. that would never happen today (and would it have happened back then?)

  9. girldetective Says:

    Shannon, I tried to get to both Blubber and Cat Ate My Gymsuit, but didn’t manage. May still try to get to Blubber, as it’s short and the discussion on it is interesting.

  10. Alice@Supratentorial Says:

    I also re-read Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. It’s just so iconic. I enjoyed it as a re-read. Blume so perfectly gets all the little details of the middle school years right. I was also interested to read it because of all the controversy surrounding it over the years. I’ve always been a bit mystified about why it was so controversial and I still am. It seemed even tamer in re-reading than what I remembered.

  11. margie Says:

    I definitely read ‘margaret’ as a pre-teen and absorbed the details about periods, a topic never discussed in my house. i never talked with my friends about any of that either, and felt very clueless and anxious about this as a kid - so i remember thinking that the book seemed unreal on that count, because my girlfriends and I just did not talk to each other like these characters. Re-reading it with my pre-teen now, it felt very out-of-date, and sanctimonious. i was surprised at how vacuous it all seemed, the character of margaret really did not evolve as much as i had hoped or somehow remembered. I need to look at ‘Then Again’ as I have not read this. Sounds like a good counterpoint to Margaret.
    I am enjoying reading/thinking on the discussion - thanks for all this food for thought, girldetective.

  12. girldetective Says:

    Margie, which parts did you think felt sanctimonious, the parts about the Danker girl, or the stuff about religion? Another reader called Tiger Eyes “thin” and I also am feeling that these Blumes are on the “lite” side. Tastes great, but less filling.

  13. Emily Says:

    I re-read Tiger Eyes for the first time since college. Wow. Though I remembered so much (the hot air balloons, the hiking boots, Ned, Wolf…) there was so much I had missed about her struggle after seeing her father murdered. Thin? Not by my grade. One thing I did remember clearly was that Ned, her mother’s suitor, kept trying to impress her. At one point, she points out bluntly and rudely that he has spinach in his teeth. The line that follows - “he picks it out, examines it and flicks it in the ash tray” is almost VERBATIM a line from Forever (which I also just re-read, and it made my heart ache for simple young love) where Michael does the EXACT same thing. Weird.

    On a side note, I have no recollection of the religion in Margaret, though it was a jr high bible for me and my friends. And I learned about wet dreams from Then Again, but have no other memory of that book.

  14. Lizzie Skurnick Says:

    I actually wrote about this after Shelf Discovery came out — I too could no longer interface w/Margaret, though for a reason that was interesting to me:

  15. Kate Says:

    I had the same feelings about the relative thin-ness of Margaret, which I re-read as an adult years ago. I sort of preferred Then Again, but much like Jennifer Reese, I treated the books as having useful information, as opposed to protagonists I liked or identified with.

    And I absolutely agree with GD–there are a number of Blume books I missed entirely (Deenie, Tiger Eyes), but I had the same copy of Otherwise Known! Our ages are different, so I’m not sure that’s an excuse, but maybe I just stopped reading her at some point . . .