Judy, Judy, Judy

Are you there God? It’s me Leslie (or Andrea, or Susie or Jacqueline …).

I’d venture to guess there’s hardly a woman out there, who was once a 12-year-old girl, who hasn’t poured over Are you there God? It’s me Margaret and at least considered trying out the exercises that Margaret and her friends attempted with, “we must, we must, we must increase our bust.”

With more than 75 million books sold and translated into 20 different languages, nobody speaks “girl” better than Judy Blume, which is why diehard fans, myself included, cheered last week when she received the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

This is one highfalutin award, normally given to those who grace the literature section at Borders. People like Arthur Miller, Toni Morrison, John Updike and Eudora Welty, not exactly the company that Blume usually keeps.

For those men out there who grew up under a rock or never had a sister, Judy Blume is to 12-year-old girls as the Three Stooges are to 12-year-old … well really all … guys. Sorry, but it’s a fact of life that girls mature faster and they stay that way, thanks in part to all of the advice we’ve received over the years from people like Blume, Helen Gurley Brown, and, of course, Marsha Brady.

Blume is real treasure to those of us who grew up as girls. She writes frankly about the lives of kids and particularly girls, going through puberty, which Blume calls “the great equalizer.”

Training bras, menstruation, first kisses, zits, bratty little brothers — her books are the real classics. Unlike the books that are better to have read than to actually read, (the ones you suffer through to pass an English test or to not be ostracized out of future cocktail party conversations), from Blume you learn important stuff, like “all boys of 14 are disgusting — They’re only interested in two things — pictures of naked girls and dirty books,” and “If you ask me, being a teenager is pretty rotten — between pimples and worry about how you smell!”

See, she gets us!

Which is why I’m so happy that the National Book Foundation finally gets her.

Judy Blume was the big sister I’ve always wished I had. How cool would it be if I could come home after school and ask Judy to help with all the big decisions of life?

As a fourth grader at Harding School, when I was freakishly tall and forever trying to fit in, Judy could have told me: “It’s very foolish to laugh if you don’t know what’s funny in the first place.” (Blubber) And later that year, when I discovered boys weren’t so bad after all, if only she could have told me, “I don’t believe in cooties anymore.” (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing)

Even as a sophomore at San Marcos, when I finally figured out the difference between a real friend and someone you hang out with, it would have been nice to have Blume there to reinforce it with, “You know at first I wanted you to like me, but now I really don’t care if you do or you don’t.” (As Long as We’re Together)

Or when contemplating a major at UCLA. “It’s important to experiment, so when the time comes you’re all ready.” (Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret)

Okay, so Margaret and her friend were talking about practicing kissing on a pillow, but really it applies to a lot of things, not just kissing.

If only I had Blume there when my little sister bugged me incessantly and my parents drove me crazy, she would have understood just how I felt.

If only Judy were there to help me, the knowing voice of another girl who had actually survived growing up.

Huh … I guess she was there for me after all.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on November 25, 2004.