Even the title of Then Again, Maybe I Won’t expresses the contradictory nature of adolescence, the confusing state of simultaneously wanting to be autonomous adult and dependent child, while awkwardly hovering somewhere in between. Judy Blume does a remarkable job of getting inside a teenage boy’s mind and employing a believable adolescent voice to express the worries, fears, and confusion of this difficult age.
Blume thoroughly understands young people, and her juvenile characters ring true. Unlike many adults, she appreciates the seriousness of adolescent concerns. Tony internalizes everyone’s problems, assuming responsibility and worry for events over which he has absolutely no control. He is anxious about money, afraid that at the rate his parents are spending their newfound wealth they will soon have nothing left. He mentally girds himself for the day when the money will run out and worries constantly about his grandmother’s exile from the kitchen and how terrible she must be feeling. He worries about getting caught making crank phone calls with Joel, and he agonizes over whether he should report Joel’s shoplifting to the police. The adults around him, wrapped up in their own concerns, have no inkling of what is going on in Tony’s head. When Mrs. Miglione learns that Tony needs to discuss his problems with a psychiatrist, she responds, “What problems? A thirteen-year-old boy doesn’t have any problems.”
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Then Again, Maybe I Won’t has all the familiar hallmarks of a Judy Blume novel: an honest portrayal of less-than-perfect children and their parents, a blunt approach to sexuality, and an authentic voice. This novel bears particular similarity to Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970), which captures the same moment between childhood and adolescence in a young girl’s life that Then Again, Maybe I Won’t captures in a young boy’s life. Both novels address similar concerns about sexuality, adjusting to a new town and school, and dealing with family tensions.
Then Again, Maybe I Won’t also resembles J. D. Salinger’s classic novel The Catcher in the Rye (1951). Tony, like Holden Caulfield, sees the world in black-and-white terms, holds adults up to impossibly high standards, and abhors hypocrisy. Each character relates best to a person outside the realm of adult “phonies”; Tony can find comfort only from his elderly grandmother, while Holden relates only to children.
Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, although considered neither a juvenile classic nor likely required classroom reading, nevertheless occupies a highly regarded place in the young adult canon because it speaks so effectively and honestly to teenagers and preteens about what really matters to them. Blume is a master at exploring the minds and hearts of adolescents, presenting life from their perspective. While being neither judgmental nor didactic, she manages to teach valuable lessons about honesty, family, and growing up.