Archive for the 'Summer of Shelf Discovery' Category

“Deenie” by Judy Blume

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012


You remember Deenie, right? The Judy Blume book the pretty girl who has scoliosis and has to get a brace? If you were a girl in the 60s/70s/80s (and if any of you were earlier or later than that, chime in) then you probably do. But do you remember this:

As soon as I got into bed I started touching myself. I have this special place and when I rub it I get a very nice feeling. I don’t know what it’s called or if anyone else has it but when I have trouble falling asleep, touching my special place helps a lot. (55)

I sure as heck didn’t. Maybe I didn’t get it and just didn’t notice when I was young, I thought. But later in the book, when Deenie frets about the scoliosis, she says:

I touched my special place practically every night. It was the only way I could fall asleep, and besides, it felt good. (82)

Re-reading this, I was amazed that I didn’t remember this part of the novel at all. Why hadn’t my friends and I been as OMG! over this as we had over Margaret and her friends bust-increasing exercises in Are You There God It’s Me, Margaret? or the guy’s erections in Then Again Maybe I Won’t?

Maybe it was just these two short passages, I thought, and I’d been oblivious. Yet it immediately becomes overt in the book. When her gym class is asked to submit anonymous questions as part of a monthly discussion, Deenie writes:

Do normal people touch their bodies before they go to sleep and it is all right to do that? (82)

Deenie’s gym teacher Mrs. Rappaport, the same one who identified her spine issue, asks them if they’ve heard otherwise. Several girls say yes. She asks if they know what it’s called, then they name it together: masturbation. She then assures them:

“Nobody ever went crazy from masturbating, but a lot of people make themselves sick from worrying about it.” (84)

This scene takes up a full three pages in my edition. It’s straightforward, not in coded language that I might have skated over if I didn’t get it.

The last mention is toward the end of the book:

Usually I take showers and get in and out as soon as possible. But the hot water was very relaxing and soon I began to enjoy it. I reached down and touched my special place with the washcloth. I rubbed and rubbed until I got that good feeling. (132)

I find it interesting how Blume chose to name the act but not the “special place” or the “good feeling.” She took care to name and break down the term “adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.” And I find it really interesting how many details I recalled about the book, like Deenie being named after Natalie Wood’s character from Splendor in the Grass, and cutting off her hair, but didn’t remember a significant sub-theme of the novel, especially one I think would have kids tearing the book out of one another’s hands to find out more.

I read Deenie for my summer reading bender, where I’m choosing titles out of the chapters of Lizzie Skurnick’s reading memoir, Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading. (WHICH YOU SHOULD GO BUY NOW NOW NOW BECAUSE IT’S ONLY $6 AT AMAZON!) It’s one of the titles in Chapter 5, “You Heard It Here First: Very Afterschool Specials.” Perhaps the Problem in the novel, scoliosis, was so front and center that it eroded the female masturbation from memory.

“Don’t Hurt Laurie!” by Willo Davis Roberts

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012


I remember checking out Don’t Hurt Laurie! by Willo Davis Roberts from the Worthington, Ohio library, probably soon after it came out. It was probably recommended to me by a librarian in a similar scenario to the one narrator Laurie describes in the book, minus the child abuse in my case:

“My goodness, what happened to you?”

Laurie swallowed. She wondered what the lady would say if she replied, “My mother hit me with a butcher knife.” But of course she didn’t say anything like that. She knew it would only make things worse.

“I cut my hand and had to have stitches in it,” she said.

“My, that’s too bad.” The woman took Laurie’s card and began to check out the books. “We’ve got a new book here you might like. It’s about a little girl whose parents are being divorced. The girls your age say it’s very good. Would you like to take it?”

“No, thank you,” Laurie said politely, averting her eyes from the cover. “I have all I can read in two weeks, I think.”

That wasn’t true at all. She could read twice as many books as she was taking out, without half trying. But she didn’t like books aboutkids and their problems with div orcing parents or alcoholic fathers or extreme poverty or troubles, troubles, troubles. She had enough problems of her own, and she didn’t want to think about anyone else’s, even in a pretend world where you knew everything was goign to turn out all right in the end.

What she liked were fun books, where it was not only all right at the end, but all the way through the book. (p. 7-8)

Reading this book at 44 rather than at 9 years old makes a big difference. I still was horrified at the brutality of Laurie’s mother. But I also cringed at the overly determined story, e.g., Laurie wishes her mother would die, then she gets hit by a car though doesn’t die.

I read this as part of my summer reading bender, Summer of Shelf Discovery. Lizzie Skurnick, in Chapter 5: “You Heard It Here First: Very Afterschool Specials,” writes about the pull of these Problem-with-a-capital-P novels:

It is part of the perverse logic of childhood that, as far as the fictional world goes, the greater the horror of the story, the greater the greedy reading glee…it goes without saying that a story that can tell us an entirely new horrible things we’ve never heard has unparalleled possibilities for enjoyment. (193)

What does it say that in 2012 books about child abuse, as well as after-school specials, very special episodes of television shows, and Lifetime movies, has become something of a cliche? That’s potentially a benefit. No one now would be unaware or ignore the symptoms Laurie experiences. Skurnick reminds us, too, that

in its day, both the revelations of the problem at all–to say nothing of its features–were largely unknown by the public, including young readers. (205)

Nonetheless, this book seems more a relic from a time capsule than something that continues to resonate, especially in its willingness to empathize with the mother:

“Her own mother mistreated her very badly, Laurie, and somehow that’s why she’s the way she is. She told the doctor some really terrible things that happened to her as a child…maybe when she gets that all out of her system, she won’t have to hurt you anymore.” (163)

Yes, children today still suffer at the hands of authority figures. And yet, this book seemed more like a careful description of what kids, teachers and health workers should notice, rather than a story of a complex character. It was more about the Problem than about Laurie.

Shelf Discovery Ch 5: You Heard It Here First: Very Afterschool Specials

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

For the summer, I’m reading along with the books Lizzie Skurnick wrote about in her reading memoir, Shelf Discovery. Chapter 5 is a small group of books that each had a PROBLEM: Deenie (scoliosis); Don’t Hurt Laurie! (child abuse); Are You in the House Alone? (acquaintance rape); Go Ask Alice (drugs); and It’s Not the End of the World (divorce). Though dated now, many of these were surprising at the time, and a title list could go on longer: there was the anorexia one, the satan-worshipping one, the mental illness one with the turtle on the cover, and even The Wave, which actually got made into an after-school special. Skurnick thinks their appeal was simple:

to imagine one’s own capacity to respond to the same situation, given the shot.

I liked revisiting these books well enough, but didn’t love any of them this time around, though I don’t remember loving them then, either, just devouring them, and any I could get my hands on. Prostitution? Runaways? Heroin addiction? While I didn’t love the books, I must have loved the vicarious thrill of reading about all these things.

I wanted to re-read Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, one of my favorite young-adult books of recent years, and one that would fit nicely as a modern counterpart in this chapter. Alas, Don’t Hurt Laurie!, Deenie, and Go Ask Alice (alas, indeed) were what I had time to read, and the reviews are coming.

What book(s) did you read this week? What was your draw to these PROBLEM novels then, and is there any draw still, now? (more links to come).

Previous weeks:

Chapter 5

Chapter 4

Chapter 3

Chapter 2

Chapter 1

Remember: keep up the comments! Lizzie Skurnick has promised a signed copy of her book to one of you reading along (random drawing at end) with possible other goodies!

“Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

Another entry in my summer reading bender, Summer of Shelf Discovery.

Chapter 4 of Lizzie Skurnick’s reading memoir, Shelf Discovery, is “Read ‘Em and Weep” about books we read as kids that made us cry. Katherine Paterson’s Jacob Have I Loved was my first choice, and her Bridge to Terabithia was my second.

What I was surprised to find on this re-reading: IT’S NOT BEES! (”You never can tell about bees,” said Winnie the Pooh.) I’d thought the reason for the Tragedy in this book was bees. Nope. That’s A Taste of Blackberries, and the movie My Girl. No, the child death happens for another reason entirely. I paused in my reading of the book where the accident is announced. I thought this might have been like cutting off a sneeze, so I wouldn’t cry. Nope. As with Jacob Have I Loved, it was a slow accumulation of sadnesses at the end that had me leaking tears for many pages.

“Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself” by Judy Blume

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

I skipped back to a book from Chapter 1 of Lizzie Skurnick’s reading memoir Shelf Discovery, on memorable heroines, to re-read Judy Blume’s Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself. In Week 1 of the Summer Shelf Discovery reading bender, several readers had commented on how enjoyable it was, and one reader noted a Blume character pattern of difficult mom/nice dad, which I can confirm in this book.

Sally is, indeed, a terrific heroine, with her imaginative stories, her incessant curiosity (asking her parents exactly WHAT kind of disease she could catch in a bath house) and using words and phrases she doesn’t know, like ‘bordello’ and ‘love and other indoor sports’. In post-WWII New Jersey, Sally’s dentist father rents the family a place in Florida. Sally’s older brother has been sick, so the rest of the family moves south for the winter: Sally, her mother, brother and grandmother nicknamed Ma Fanny. Sally has to adjust to a new school, new friends, and frenemies, who often inhabit Blume novels. She copes by telling herself stories, one of which is how a strange neighbor, Mr. Zavodsky, is really Hitler in disguise. ,

The book is often laugh-out-loud funny, and is entertaining in the lack of OVERT THEME other Blume books have. (Margaret: periods and religion; Blubber: bullies and friendship; Deenie: scoliosis; etc.) Set in the 1940’s, it’s supposed to be Blume’s most autobiographical book. Of the ones I’ve re-read on my summer reading bender, this is the Blume I’ve enjoyed best by far, perhaps because it’s about a complex, engaging character rather than a less-interesting every-kid dealing with a particular issue.

“Jacob Have I Loved” by Katherine Paterson

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

As part of my summer reading bender Summer of Shelf Discovery, Chapter 4 of Lizzie Skurnick’s reading memoir, Shelf Discovery, is “Read ‘Em and Weep: Tearing Up the Pages” about the books we read (and re-read) that made us cry. The first book of the chapter and the first one I chose to re-read was Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson, a book which has followed me through all my moves.

Written from an adult perspective looking back on childhood, it’s narrated by Louise, the elder of twins who resented her younger, prettier, musically talented twin. There was a part in the middle about an inappropriate crush that I’d utterly forgotten. As a girl, I identified fiercely with Louise, and found myself right back with my younger self as I read this, which reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from Joan Didion, from “On Keeping a Notebook”

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.

This book is a perfect example of a characters who DOESN’T forget. It’s complicated, sweet, and sad without being a message or a SAD EVENT novel. I loved it all over again.

“Daughters of Eve” by Lois Duncan

Monday, July 2nd, 2012


Somehow I never read Lois Duncan’s Daughters of Eve back in the day. Its 70’s feminism is a fascinating compare/contrast with Beverly Cleary’s idyllic 60’s pre-Vietnam Sister of the Bride. I read it out of Chapter 3, “Danger Girls” from Lizzie Skurnick’s Shelf Discovery.

With Daughters of Eve, some things I saw coming, some things I didn’t. It reminded me of the after-school special The Wave, with its charismatic leader and students led down problematic paths. (Book version of The Wave here.)

Perhaps it was me, but I thought that it did a decent job of showing that bad people can represent decent causes and undermine them, though I think it can also be read as an indictment of 70’s feminism/feminists.

The post script was sad and thought provoking. I wondered what happened to other of the characters, but should probably go back and make those up myself, since I complained of how Raskin did that in The Westing Game.

A note of caution: Many of the Duncan novels were recently “updated” by sprinkling them with modern devices like cell phones and such in order to market them in admittedly attractive new editions. You can read takes on these updates from Amy at New Century Reading and M at Mental Multivitamin. I recommend seeking out the originals. Tech moves so fast these days that the updates are probably already outdated. While I heartily endorse keeping these books in print and am thrilled that a new generation is finding them (though I did discourage my nearly 9yo son from sniffing around them, which he did all the more intently when I tried to shoo him off; should I have done this? I was reading them when I was 9, I think.) I think readers can engage just fine with books set at a certain point in time. If Starring Sally J and Jacob Have I Loved are set in the 40’s, why not the Duncans set in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s?

“The Grounding of Group 6″ by Julian Thompson

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

Julian Thompson’s The Grounding of Group 6 was from Chapter 3, Danger Girls of Lizzie Skurnicks Shelf Discovery, part of the Summer of Shelf Discovery reading adventure.

In Group 6, five kids and an adult counselor find themselves on the wrong end of some plans by mean parents and nasty, caricatured by amusing, school teachers. They hide in the woods, live off the land, and amazingly, the 3 girls and 3 guys end up pairing up and getting all hot and bothered. There are several mentions of birth control here, which I appreciated, acknowledging teen hormones but not romanticizing them.

I would have found this book cathartic as a teen, with its persecuted-by-adults theme, but as an actual adult, I found it at times pretty silly. Enjoyable enough, but as a relic, not as an enduring classic.

Summer of “Shelf Discovery” Ch. 4: Read ‘Em and Weep

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

Sorry that this post is late but welcome to week four of the Summer of Shelf Discovery reading project (project sounds so stiff. Adventure? Diversion? Vacation? Book Bender?) in which we a chapter of Lizzie Skurnick’s book memoir Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, and talking about the books she includes in each chapter.

Chapter 4 is “Read ‘Em and Weep: Tearing Up the Pages,” on the books that made us cry. Like the Kids-in-Danger trope of chapter 3, the Sad Book trope got me thinking: what is it that drew us to these books? What buttons did they push that were so alluring that we returned to these books again and again, knowing they made us sad? Is it like scratching a mosquito bite, or poking at a sore spot? Why did we watch The Champ and Terms of Endearment over and over? How did Lurlene McDaniel build a franchise on Dying Girl books?

For this week, I re-read Katherine Paterson’s Jacob Have I Loved. I marveled, though, that I couldn’t remember why it had made me cry. After reading, though, it makes sense. The book made me cry because it was complicated, and it didn’t have easy lessons, and because the narrator, Sara Louise, unkindly nicknamed Wheeze by her prettier more talented twin Caroline, struggled with ugly and awkward emotions and no lessons were spelled out. There wasn’t AN EVENT, as there was in books like Bridge to Terabithia, A Taste of Blackberries, A Summer to Die, et al.

As the older, good-grade getting sister of a younger, cuter, more attention-earning sister, I had a fierce love and identification with Louise. I knew what those ugly emotions felt like. I’d enacted some of those nasty behaviors, like telling my sister she was adopted (absurd if you see our family together) and that on family trips she should stay awake, as Mom and Dad didn’t love her as much, and the rest of us just might leave her in the middle of the night. (Some of this might be apocryphal, but it’s entered into family lore as Truth, so I’ve stopped trying to defend myself.)

So, what weepies did you read as a girl/teen, and why do you think we were drawn to them, often over and over? What are the modern weepies? John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars? Wonder by Palacio?

Hey, if you’re reading along, remember to comment, as Lizzie Skurnick has a signed copy and maybe a prize pack for one of you co-readers. And I HIGHLY recommend friending Lizzie on FB, to see many more covers and join the old-book lovers club.

“The Westing Game” by Ellen Raskin

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

I’m not sure when I first read Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game (before it won the Newbery Medal?), but I do know it was in the regular re-reading rotation for years. I’ve never learned to play chess, one of the central metaphors of the book. (My husband has tried to teach me several times, and my 6yo once, but it never sticks.) But it still was not necessary for me to enjoy this book, which I did yet again, as a selection from Chapter 3: “Danger Girls,” of Lizzie Skurnick’s reading memoir, Shelf Discovery, which a bunch of us are reading this summer (or reading along with) here at Girl Detective.

I smiled when I re-encountered Turtle Wexler, she of the flying braid and shin kicks. I was a shin kicker myself, back in 3rd and 4th grade, so I empathized with Turtle’s method of anger management, or lack thereof. I wonder if I was as horrified, as a child, by the flagrant disregard her mother had for her, as I was on this read. All of the adults in the book are interestingly flawed and damaged, but Grace’s active neglect of Turtle and overt favoritism to her elder knocked the air out of me. This did make it all the easier to cheer for her as she and the other fifteen heirs are challenged to discover who killed Sam Westing. The characters are given clues and partners, but the author gives the reader clues as well. We know when the characters are lying or telling the truth, and we also know, because we’re told up front, that one of them is a bookie, one a bomber, one a thief and one a mistake. I remembered who the bomber was, but not the thief or the mistake. Those were joys to re-discover on this reading.

It’s a marvelous puzzle, and I didn’t figure out the ending the first time I read it. Even though I remember “the solution” it’s such a joy to travel the path to get to it that I never mind.

A few things stuck out to me on this read, though, in addition to the astonishing neglect and favoritism of Turtle’s mom:

1. Mr. Hoo is a real jerk.

2. Many, perhaps most, of the characters are hastily sketched, as it’s a short book in which plot takes precedence.

3. Raskin chose to draw out the endings for all our characters, which reminds me of how the Harry Potter series ends. What happened to the characters wasn’t left to the readers’ imaginations. I like the fates she gave them, but I think leaving endings more oblique gives more credit to the reader.

Still, a thumping good read, and one I will encourage my boys to dive into.


Monday, June 25th, 2012

Lizzie Skurnick, author of Shelf Discovery, has offered to donate a signed copy of her book, to one of the readers during the Summer of Shelf Discovery. So be sure to comment, as I’ll be compiling names and do a drawing at the end!

The whole enchilada

and if you want to read along with a book a week

Summer of “Shelf Discovery” Week 3, Chapter 3

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Chapter 3 of Lizzie Skurnick’s reading memoir Shelf Discovery is “Danger Girls: I Know What You Did Last Summer (Reading).” Interestingly, she writes about the following books, which include two Lois Duncan titles, though not the one in the chapter’s title.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Daughters of Eve by Lois Duncan
The Grounding of Group 6 by Julian Thompson
Summer of Fear by Lois Duncan
I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier
The Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle
Dragons in the Waters by Madeleine L’Engle
Secret Lives by Berthe Amoss

Skurnick compares these mysteries favorably to those with Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, beloved as they are:

not only are these serious business, but the complexity of the plots is matched only by the complexity of the challenges the characters face. In each case, there’s a mystery to be solved, to be sure. But each protagonist is also a mystery to herself–and one we are just as eager to see her solve.

I think this is true, but I think Skurnick gets closer to the reason I was reading with this, when she writes about one of my former favorites, Summer of Fear. She lists all the scary things that happen in the book, and notes that certain aspects of the villain ON TOP OF THOSE might be seen as overkill to adults, yet were like catnip to twelve year olds who WANTED to be scared.

Another interesting thing I noticed was that the adults in these are mean, clueless, or both. One of my annoyances with many modern children’s book, like the Harry Potter series, is that THEY NEVER TALK TO DUMBLEDORE OR PROFESSOR MCGONAGLE. Which is maddening to me, as the reasonable grownups would help. I like that there ARE reasonable grownups in the book, but I think it’s interesting how making them mean/clueless is an effective way to remove them from the equation.

For this chapter, I re-read, and thoroughly enjoyed, The Westing Game. (Like Turtle, I was a shin kicker. I kind of miss that easy way to express one’s displeasure.) And I read The Grounding of Group 6 for the first time. I enjoyed it, and am sure I would have done so as a kid, but would rather have re-read either Summer of Fear or I Am the Cheese instead.

Another of the teen-in-danger books I loved when I was that age was The Solid Gold Kid by Harry and Norma Fox Mazer, about a millionaire’s son who gets kidnapped. I found a copy on my used-book binge for this, and look forward to reading it again.

What do you think is the attraction of the teen-in-danger trope?

What books did you re/read this week from the above, what are other teen-in-danger books you have fond memories of, or what are some modern teen-in-danger books? Would this be the best chapter for Katniss, Bella and Lisbeth Salander?

How to read along this summer

Chapter 2

Chapter 1

“Blubber” by Judy Blume

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Revisiting Judy Blume’s Blubber, about friendship and bullying, was more than a little strange. I recalled a few things about the book: one, that it wasn’t written from the Point of View (POV) of the bullied fat girl of the title, and two, to flense is to strip the blubber off a whale carcass, and three, there was a scene in which the main characters family had to scrimp to buy her a pair of huarache sandals that then the bullied girl got too, which the original girl noticed when the bullied girl walks to the front of the class and the new huaraches squeak.

So, imagine my surprise to find no huarache scene at all. Someone on the Shelf Discovery page at Facebook suggests is was in a book called Kitty in the Middle by Judy Delton that I don’t remember reading at all.

The other two memories were correct, though. The book is written from the POV of Jill, who goes along, mostly unquestioningly, with Queen Bee Wendy and her henchgirl Caroline, with the bullying of poor Linda Fischer, who has a potato-shaped head, a grey tooth, and is overweight. Jill is best friends with Tracy Wu, who was previously bullied for being Chinese, but stood up to her tormentors. Linda, however, caves immediately.

The book is complicated, in that it has no easy answers, and Jill doesn’t get a lot of insight by the end. In other words, it’s probably very close to real life. It was painful to read, and to be reminded of those vicious middle school days, when getting kicked out of a group was painful, yet didn’t prevent me from participating in kicking someone else out. I was guilty of the sins of Jill. The friends shift except for Jill and Tracy, and this, too, I found true to life.

The lack of overt lesson about bullying is troubling to me, as a parent, yet as a writer, I admire how Blume has made a complicated book. I agree with Jennifer Weiner’s essay in Shelf Discovery about it, though, that I don’t think Blume had a lot of sympathy for Linda. She is portrayed as no more sympathetic than the Queen Bee Wendy, in my opinion.

Modern Girls on the Verge?

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

As part of the Summer of Shelf Discovery, we’re revisiting classic children’s and YA books, yet what about now? What are the modern equivalents of Margaret Simon, and Beth Ellen from The Long Secret?

“Sister of the Bride” by Beverly Cleary

Thursday, June 21st, 2012


For Chapter 2 of the Summer of Shelf Discovery, I found Beverly Cleary’s Sister of the Bride sweet, but not cloying. Barbara, sixteen, is envious of her sister Rosemary, eighteen, who announces she is going to marry her boyfriend. As the little sister, she feels like she always gets the leftovers. Every time I thought it would devolve into something terrible, it didn’t. Cleary lightly juggles many sides of many issues: early marriage, education, siblings, the lure of weddings vs. the reality of marriage (a pet topic of mine). It’s written pre-Vietnam, and it shows but it’s also interesting to think what might become of these characters in a few years, because all the boys/men (Greg, Bill Cunningham, Tootie Bodger, even little brother Gordy) are likely to be drafted.

Doesn’t Rosemary look like Drew Barrymore on the painted cover? Another pet peeve: look how skinny Barbara’s arms are!

What book from Chapter 2 did you read, or what book comes to mind about kids on the verge of puberty? If you blogged about it, include a link and I’ll compile a weekly list in a post.

Lizzie Skurnick on “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

The reading project Summer of Shelf Discovery is based on Lizzie Skurnick’s reading memoir about re-reading children’s and young adult books from one’s youth. In Chapter 2, Girls on the Verge, guest author Meg Cabot wrote about Margaret. But Shelf Discovery came out of Fine Lines, a series of columns that Skurnick wrote for the website Jezebel, and it’s there that Skurnick wrote about Margaret:

For the entire span of this column, there has never been a time when I could not return back to both the moment in time when I read the book as well as re-experience exactly what it was like to do so. But in re-reading AYTGIMM, I was deeply disturbed to find I couldn’t do either….

But on this return – the events of Margaret’s life seemed thin to me, and her concerns so very distant. Rather than feeling like I could reexperience everything with her, I felt nothing so much as if I were spying.

I felt similarly when I re-read AYTGIMM. I felt like I was watching Margaret’s story unfold, rather than feeling it. I appreciated it, at times I enjoyed it, but along with a denouement it lacks a certain something that I find hard to put into words. Something that makes me feel or think on a different level? I agree with Skurnick when she writes:

there is nothing thin about the events of Margaret’s life, and nothing small about her concerns. There is nothing more charged than the year we girls start to think about sex. (Margaret doesn’t talk to God because she’s religious – she talks to him because she can’t figure out who else could safely hold all this powerful information.)

She wonders if the reason she can’t experience the book along with Margaret this time is that she’s no longer a girl on the verge:

Because, like any club, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” might be an institution made for a certain kind of member during a certain kind of time, and this old lady has no more business being there than Moose Freed does listening at the door. (After all, now I’m closer to grandma Sylvia Simon’s age – ACK! – than Margaret’s.)

And Amy at New Century Reading ends her entry on Margaret in a similar way:

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 up as well for adults,

For those of you who re-read Margaret, or remember reading Margaret–do you think it’s a book that was important as a girl, but not when you’re older? To paraphrase Blume: was that then, and this is now?

Summer of “Shelf Discovery” Week 2: Chapter 2

Monday, June 18th, 2012


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

How to Read Along on Summer of Shelf Discovery

Friday, June 15th, 2012

I’ve told everyone I know and their cousin (and all MY cousins) about my summer reading project, which started last week. It’s to read one chapter of Lizzie SKurnick’s reading memoir Shelf Discovery per week, plus one of the books she writes about in that chapter.

But this isn’t one of those online book challenges with tons of rules or restrictions. This is supposed to be fun and easy. You don’t need to read Shelf Discovery to appreciate re-reading these books. The easiest way to participate would be to scan through this list, see which books look good, re-read them, and visit the blog on the date of “discussion” in the comments.

On Monday June 18 we’ll be commenting on

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

For Monday June 25
Chapter 3 “Danger Girls: I Know What You Did Last Summer (Reading)”, and pick one:

Secret Lives by Amoss, Berthe
I Am the Cheese by Cormier, Robert
Daughters of Eve by Duncan, Lois
Summer of Fear by Duncan, Lois
The Arm of the Starfish by L’Engle, Madeleine
Dragons in the Waters by L’Engle, Madeleine
The Westing Game by Raskin, Ellen
The Grounding of Group 6 by Thompson, Julian F.

For Monday July 2
Chapter 4 “Read ‘Em and Weep: Tearing Up the Pages”, and pick one:

The Gift of the Pirate Queen by Giff, Patricia Reilly
Summer of My German Soldier by Green, Bette
Beat the Turtle Drum by Greene, Constance C.
Jacob Have I Loved by Paterson, Katherine
Bridge to Terabithia by Paterson, Katherine
A Day No Pigs Would Die by Peck, Robert Newton
Tell Me if the Lovers are Losers by Voigt, Cynthia
The Pigman by Zindel, Paul

For Monday July 9
Chapter 5 “You Heard It Here First: Very Afterschool Specials”, and pick one:

Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
Deenie by Blume, Judy
It’s Not the End of the World by Blume, Judy
Are You in the House Alone? by Peck, Richard
Don’t Hurt Laurie! by Roberts, Willo Davis

For Monday July 16
Chapter 6 “Girls Gone Wild: Runaways, Left Behinds and Ladies Living Off the Fat of the Land”, and pick one:

Understood Betsy by Fisher, Dorothy Canfield
Julie of the Wolves by George, Jean Craighead
The Endless Steppe: A Girl in Exile by Hautzig, Esther
Island of the Blue Dolphins by O’Dell, Scott
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Speare, Elizabeth George
Homecoming by Voigt, Cynthia
Little House on the Prairie by Wilder, Laura Ingalls

For Monday July 23
Chapter 7 “She Comes by It Supernaturally: Girls Who Are Gifted and Talented”, and pick one:

Jane-Emily by Clapp, Patricia
A Gift of Magic by Duncan, Lois
Stranger with my Face by Duncan, Lois
Down a Dark Hall by Duncan, Lois
Hangin’ Out with Cici by Pascal, Francine
Ghosts I Have Been by Peck, Richard
Girl with the Silver Eyes by Roberts, Willo Davis

For Monday July 30
Chapter 8 “Him She Loves: Romanced, Rejected, Affianced, Dejected”, and pick one:

Forever by Blume, Judy
Fifteen by Cleary, Beverly
To All My Fans, With Love, From Sylvie by Conford, Ellen
The Moon by Night by L’Engle, Madeleine
In Summer Light by Oneal, Zibby
Happy Endings are All Alike by Scoppetone, Sandra
My Darling, My Hamburger by Zindel, Paul

For Monday August 6
Chapter 9 “Old Fashioned Girls: They Wear Bonnets, Don’t They?” Pick one:

Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Aiken, Joan
An Old Fashioned Girl by Alcott, Louisa May
The Secret Garden by Burnett, Frances Hodgson
A Little Princess by Burnett, Frances Hodgson
Belles on the Their Toes by Carey, Ernestine Gilbreth
Cheaper by the Dozen by Gilbreth, Jr, Frank B.
All of a Kind Family by Taylor, Sydney

For Monday August 13
Chapter 10 “Panty Lines: I Can’t Believe They Let Us Read This”, and pick one:

My Sweet Audrina by Andrews, V.C.
Flowers in the Attic by Andrews, V.C.
Clan of the Cave Bear by Auel, Jean
Wifey by Blume, Judy
Domestic Arrangements by Klein, Norma

Monday August 20: Discuss the book as a whole, and the re-reading/reminiscing experience.

“Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” by Judy Blume

Friday, June 15th, 2012

It’s really one of the best titles, isn’t it? You never want to say the whole Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret aloud (or type it more than twice), but the phrase is iconic, as is the book, which has been read and beloved by bajillions of pre-teen girls. Why? Because it talked about periods, and buying bras, and envying girls who are more developed than others. It contained things that were felt very real and important when I was whatever age I was when I read it (9? 10? 11 at the latest).

Before re-reading it, I recalled a few details: the obsession over getting periods, the “we must” chant, and her school project about choosing a religion. After reading it, and filling in the chinks with the rest of the story, I’m left with an experience much like I probably had growing up. I like this book, and like Margaret, and like Judy Blume for writing Margaret. It’s a sweet book. Like From the Mixed-Up Files… (another great, unwieldy title), nothing truly awful happens to kids. Unlike that book, though, this one ended quickly. As I did with A Wrinkle in Time, I wished for more of a denouement. And while it was a pleasure to revisit Margaret, she doesn’t have the hold on me that Meg or Claudia do.

Coming Up: Shelf Discovery Chapter 2 and Books

Friday, June 15th, 2012

Your weekend “homework,” for the Summer of Shelf Discovery, if you choose to accept it, is to read Chapter 2 of Lizzie Skurnick’s Shelf Discovery and one or more books from or related to Chapter 2 “She’s at That Age: Girls on the Verge”. Or just visit on Monday June 18, 2012 to comment on any of these, or other books about pre-adolescents.

Bonus, Skurnick writes about A Ring of Endless Light at Jezebel today.

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