Archive for the ‘Judy Blume’ Tag

My Life In Books – Blubber

Another Judy Blume book, this one deals with the timeless issue of schoolyard bullying.

Fifth-grader Jill joins in with her classmates tormenting Linda, the fat, unpopular kid who makes herself an easy target for the bullies by not standing up for herself. But Jill learns what it’s like to be the victim, not the bully, when the tables get turned and she finds herself the target for the ridicule.

I was surprised to learn, in looking up this book, that it’s on the list of ‘most frequently banned’ books in the US. The main issue seems to be because the bullies don’t get punished. Jill learns that by standing up for herself, the bullies leave her alone, but they never see the error of their ways.

For me, the strength in Judy Blume’s writing is the realistic way she portrays sensitive issues. This book resonated with me because I was a bullied kid – I was the geeky smart kid with the bad dress sense and the funny accent (being British and living in Canada). I was different and ridiculed for it.

Bullying is a terrible thing and I know first-hand how hard it is to deal with when you’re young. But as I’ve moved through life there are a few things I’ve learned about bullies.

The first thing is you can’t escape them, even in adulthood. Bullies always exist. I’ve worked for bullying bosses, and bullying office mates. In an ideal world, bullies would be dealt with and removed from the workplace. In real life, it’s not that easy. You either learn how to deal with them, or you end up leaving your job and working somewhere else.  But chances are, you’ll be dealing with similar issues there too, because human beings are flawed. Most people find it easier to criticise someone else’s failings than to face up to their own – that’s ultimately why reality shows and soaps are so popular.

The other thing I’ve learned is that most of the time bullies won’t admit to being so. My bullying boss never considered himself a bully. He just thought everyone else was being spineless. My way of dealing with him was to give back as good as I got. We’d have screaming matches in the office, and then I would storm back to my desk and ignore him for the rest of the day. There were only the two of us in the office on a full time basis. It really wasn’t the most professional way to run a business, and undoubtedly not the best way for me to handle the situation. I was busy looking for another job in the meantime, but not being the sort of person who feels comfortable walking out of a job without another one lined up, I put up with this situation for rather longer than I should have done.

As an additional point, it became clear to me that my boss didn’t bully women he fancied. Then, he was charm personified. So there were a lot of women – mostly friends but occasionally customers of the company – who thought he was wonderful, and they never saw the side that I saw, every day in the office. Even after I left the job the memories of this person haunted me. Then I based the character of Jonathan in DEATH SCENE on him and killed him off. That allowed me to move on.

Social networking has made it easier for us all to catch up with people from our past – sometimes people we’d really rather not have contact with. Something I’ve learned about bullies of childhood is that though your childhood trauma at their hands is imprinted indelibly on your memory, the bullies have no memory of it whatsoever. One or two people who tormented me as a teenager have got in touch with me in adulthood. They only have good things to say. “How wonderful to catch up with you. So pleased to hear you’re doing so well with the writing. I always remember you for the wonderful stories you wrote.” So you don’t remember tormenting me in the school corridors, then? Strange. That’s what I remember about you. But they only remember who was making them miserable.

Bullying is one of those subjects that gets people very upset. Yes, it’s a terrible thing. Yes, the world would be a better place if we could abolish it. Unfortunately, we never will. Homer Simpson summed it up rather well: “sometimes the only time you can feel good about yourself is by making someone else feel bad.” That’s what bullying is all about, at the end of the day.  All those people who feel bad about themselves turn their energies into making someone else feel even worse.

A great deal of us have a rough time in adolescence because of bullies.  That’s why I think this book still deserves to be in all school libraries. Eradicating bullying is a noble idea but I fear unachievable. It’s more important to teach kids how to rise above it.  How to survive in spite of it.  Because in real life, which is rarely fair, the best thing we can learn is that if we can deal with these traumas and obstacles place in our path, we emerge a better person. I don’t think anyone has an easy time in adolescence, but the lessons we learn there serve us well later in life. The bullying boss who made my life hell for over three years inspired a character in a novel – so a good thing even came out of that situation, too!

All those people pegged as losers and geeks in high school are the ones who grow up to be the most successful. The ones who get the qualifications to get a well-paying job. The ones who find a life partner who values them for who they are. The ones who learn, in spite of the traumas of childhood, self-respect and how important it is to be true to themselves. And these are lessons worth learning.


My Life In Books: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

Everything changes when one hits puberty. The grown-ups do tell you this – but no one, at 10 years old, can fully comprehend how much is going to change in the next couple of years. The physical, psychological, mental and emotional changes that you experience in just a few short years are completely overwhelming. No wonder teenagers get a bit stroppy.

The enduring popularity of Judy Blume is that her books are there to help you through the Hell that is puberty – because her characters are going through what you are going through, and you feel she understands. Unlike all other grown ups, who of course couldn’t ever have been young enough to experience puberty…

Grade 6 was the year that this book made the rounds amongst all the girls in my class. It was also the year all the boys had to leave the room while the girls had to watch the film about periods. A bit late in the day, in my opinion, but maybe things have changed nowadays. Nevertheless, this book is as relevant now as it was then, to girls on the brink of puberty.

Margaret is coming up to 12 when she moves to a new city with her parents. An only child of parents who eloped, because one was Jewish and one was Christian and her grandparents did not approve of the match, she has grown up without any particular religious doctrine. But as she hits puberty, part of the process of discovering who she is involves exploring the concept of God.

Margaret and her friends start a club where they talk about boys. They practise kissing on posters. They are all anxious to start their periods – no one wants to be the last to experience this formal passage into womanhood. They all go off to buy their first bras, and worry about not having anything to fill them. And Margaret talks to God about all of her worries – things she feels she can’t talk to anyone else about.

The wonderful thing about this book is that it demonstrates that 12-year-old girls really haven’t changed at all in the generations since it was written. I identified with it because at 11/12 I worried about the same things Margaret did. I’m sure I wasn’t the only girl who decided to try out the exercise that Margaret and her friends engage in to improve the chest muscles – holed up in the bedroom, pulling my arms back vigorously, chanting “I must, I must, I must imcrease my bust” as the characters in the book did. I really should have looked at the long line of generously endowed women in my mother’s family and realised that genes would take care of this problem for me, with a little patience. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, and the anxieties of the adolescent seem like the end of the world at the time, even though in the grand scheme of things these problems are pretty trivial.

The only thing that dates this book is the fact that the sanitary towels Margaret buys in secret to practise using, so that when she has need of them she’ll know what to do, are the kind with loops attached to a belt around one’s waist, which haven’t been available for many years now.

Judy Blume said she wrote this based on many of her own experiences and feelings in adolescence. They resounded with me as a pre-teen, and I have no doubt that they still resound with today’s pre-teenage girls. Sometimes I feel old when I see today’s teens. But sometimes, books like this serve to remind me that some things don’t change at all.