Judy Sussman was born February 12, 1938, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to Jewish parents: Esther, a quiet, book-savvy housewife, and Rudolph, a dentist. Much of Blume’s fiction finds itself rooted in this family, particularly her father, who provided the model for many of his fictional counterparts in his strong joviality and support for his daughter’s imagination.
As in many of her novels, though, physical distance between father and daughter proved to be problematic. In one instance, the family was forced to move to Florida for two years out of health concerns for Judy’s older brother, David; her father remained in New Jersey, working to support them. Both siblings would experience severe illness in their youth. Her father’s death in 1959 at the relatively young age of fifty-four, coupled with the death of two of his brothers in their forties, would haunt Blume’s prose with a preoccupation with parental separation, mortality, and isolation.
Blume attended New York University (NYU), after mononucleosis arrested her start at Boston University during her first year there. She graduated with a B.S. in Early Childhood Education in 1960, which she never utilized, as she wished to stay at home with her children. In fact, she attributed much of her impetus to be an educator to her mother’s pragmatism that she have a career in the event that marriage did not work out for her. Esther Sussman’s anxieties were quite prescient.
Judy Sussman became Judy Blume when she married John Blume, a lawyer, in 1959, during her junior year in college. Blume has stated that their sixteen-year marriage constituted a period during which she was expected to fulfill the role of a domestic homemaker: raising children, Randy Lee in 1961 and Larry in 1963, and attending to...
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The plurality and complexity of a child’s life lies at the heart of most of Blume’s works. Her greatest contribution to children’s literature may come in her uncanny ability to capture the emotions of a child in print, without deference to adult perspective. Blume’s young protagonists are as pockmarked and precocious as their real-world equivalents. Therein lies the charm, wit, and humor of her prose. Her unwavering admiration of the struggles of childhood parallels her consistent refusal to diminish, simplify, or condescend to youthful anxieties, joys, and imagination.
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Blume has written frank, cutting-edge books that are loved by many young readers but often loathed by parents, school officials, and watchdog groups. Her detractors have objected to children reading about such topics as the development of sexual awareness during the teen years, menstruation, masturbation, and premarital sex. According to People for the American Way, Blume authored more of the books for young people that were banned between 1982 and 1992 than any other writer.
One of Blume’s early efforts, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970) acted as a magnet, attracting young readers and censors alike in 1970. Written in the form of nighttime prayers, the story is about a girl named Margaret, who agonizes over being a new girl in town, her parent’s mixed- faith religions, her small breasts, her late menstruation, and other matters. Told with great restraint and humor, the book immediately stirred controversy, and never appeared on many school library shelves. The next year, Then Again, Maybe I Won’t (1971) met with even stronger opposition, because it dealt with the problems of a teenager named Tony, who, like Margaret, worries about his developing body. Censors charged that Blume’s book promoted voyeurism, shoplifting, and dealt with unsavory subjects such as alcohol abuse, masturbation, and the fear of unexpected erections.
Candid depictions of female masturbation in...
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