What Judy Blume taught me about Boobs, Books and Boys

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With the author’s long-awaited new book out soon, Amy Dawson salutes her brave and brilliant books for teens

WHEN I inherited a raspberry-pink bedroom from my older sister at the age of eight, she also left behind her entire oeuvre of Judy Blume. This literary badass, who has sold more than 80million books, was writing young adult (YA) fiction before the genre really existed. Over the next few years I inhaled the faded paperbacks like they were salt and vinegar Hula Hoops – reading on the swing, curled on top of bin bags full of old clothes in the loft, or lying on the roof of the shed. Blume’s world, a place where American girls wore ‘barrettes’ in their hair and ate peanut butter on crackers, somehow felt just as thrillingly alien to my south London suburban life as Philip Pullman’s parallel universes.

While my friends were wearing Tammy Girl combats, I loafed around in Blume heroine-style cut-off Levi’s and an oversized flannel shirt inherited from an older neighbour – pretty much the same stuff Urban Outfitters now flogs us for £50 a pop. Blume’s universe may have been strange, and already a little dated, but she spoke to me because no author more honestly, naturally and unpatronisingly inhabits the confused mindset of pre-teen and teenage girls.

Her often-banned books, dealing realistically with everything from masturbation to friendship fallouts, were also a veritable treasure trove of information for a girl who somehow seemed to be receiving the worst sex education in Britain – not only did I leave primary school thinking that periods lasted for a maximum of five minutes (we can but wish) I had also somehow come to believe that being ‘a Virgin’ was a form of religion, much like being, say, ‘a Buddhist’.

However, Blume sometimes confused me, too. After reading the 1970 book Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, I dreaded the day I would have to wear a giant sanitary napkin pinned to an elastic belt under my clothes. That novel also taught me the perils of illconsidered positive affirmations – one minute you’re jokingly trying out Margaret’s ‘I must, I must, I must increase my bust’ exercises, the next you’re a 13-year-old with a D cup, who won’t uncross her arms for the next five years.

But the book everybody remembers is Forever – the one in which high school senior Katherine loses her virginity to a more experienced boy, who inexplicably decides the best way to put her at her ease is to introduce his penis as ‘Ralph’. When my moment came, I was probably nowhere near as sorted, together and ‘in love’ as Katherine. Yet the book still provided welcome early reassurance that losing your virginity might actually be a lot more awkward and underwhelming than it looks like in the movies.

Still going strong at 77, Blume is beloved by cool chicks from Lena Dunham to Amanda Palmer, and has a new book coming this June. This time, it’s a story for adults – and grown-up me can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Judy Blume’s new book In The Unlikely Event (Picador) is out Jun 4

My favourite character, Rachel Robinson