“That’s not a bad word…hate and war are bad words, but fuck isn’t.”
Today, if a teen happened to pick up a copy of Forever by Judy Blume, she would have no idea that this book had caused such an uproar when it was published in the mid 1970s. If anyone happened to meet its author, Judy Blume, as I was lucky enough to do this week, she would have no idea that this charming, self-deprecating and petite woman was one of the most frequently challenged and controversial authors of the 21st century (according to the American Library Association.)
Judy Blume spoke in the Francis Parker School auditorium to a crowd of about 900 fans as part of this year’s Chicago Humanities Festival. Despite being the revered chronicler of the anxieties and dreams of a generation of teens, many of whom are now gray-haired, and an active promoter of intellectual freedom, Ms. Blume herself is decidedly unthreatening. At 77, Blume has written what she claims is her last book. In the Unlikely Event is a coming of age novel about a series of events from her own past about which she had never spoken, written or even thought much about since they happened. In the early-1950s, in the space of about 18 months, three passenger jets crashed near her small town of Elizabeth, New Jersey. And like so many other things, the adults in her life never spoke to her about the crashes. So, as kids will do, she and her friends made up wild stories about the causes of these tragedies—Commies, Martians. etc. When the memory of these events unexpectedly resurfaced several years ago, Blume set off to do what she always does in her books: to find a way to tell the truth about what happened and how it affected those who were involved.
That’s what Judy Blume does: she tells the truth. Her ground-breaking books for teens about falling in love, having sex, wondering about God, worrying about pimples and being fat probably seem quaint to teens today who have entire Young Adult collections of literature from which to select a book. Yet Blume, and this reader, clearly remember what it was like to be a teen, filled with passions, anxieties, pressures, and questions and to get no good, honest or real answers from the adults in her life. Like other writers who have since followed the path she blazed, Judy Blume trusted teens enough to tell them the truth and answer the burning questions in their lives.
Although the censors and those who would ‘protect’ teens from the scary grown-up world are still at work, I am profoundly grateful to Judy Blume for bravely fighting against them so that my own daughters could read books that also tell the truth about the Big Issues of their lives. Because it can be so awkward to talk to your parents or any other adult about the stuff that teens worry about. Today, thanks to Judy Blume’s exemplary novels and her continuing fight against censorship, there are many other authors who are telling the unvarnished truth to teens in their books. Without Judy Blume, there would be no John Green, no e. lockhart, no David Levithan, and so on and so on.
I will be sorry if this is, in fact, Judy Blume’s last book. I can’t begrudge her a rest from the huge effort involved in writing a novel. She is, after all, 77 years old. There is a special place in my heart for this brave writer who trusted that I, as a teen, could understand and deal with the truth. Because there weren’t many other adults in my life who did.