Judy (Sussman Kitchens) Blume David Rees - Essay

David Rees

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

What sort of picture would a being from another planet form of teenage and pre-teenage America were he able to read Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret and Forever? He would imagine that youth was obsessed with bras, period pains, deodorants, orgasms, and family planning; that life was a great race to see who was first to get laid or to use a Tampax; that childhood and adolescence were unpleasant obstacles on the road to adulthood—periods (sorry!) of life to be raced through as quickly as possible, to be discarded as casually as Michael in Forever throws away his used contraceptive. He would discover that the young have almost no intellect and very few feelings; that falling in love is not a matter of complex emotions that seem at the time to change one's perception of people—indeed the whole world—out of all recognition; but that it is simply a question of should one go on the pill or not, swapping partners quite heartlessly, and whether one is doing it right in bed. He'd realize, with some surprise, that sex isn't even very erotic: that it's just clinical.

Adolescents do of course have period pains and worry about the size of their breasts or penises; they fall in love and some of them sleep together. There should obviously be a place for all these concerns in teenage novels; but to write about them, as Judy Blume does, to the exclusion of everything else is doing youth a great disservice. She succeeds quite magnificently in trivializing everything, particularly young people themselves. She would appear not to know that they do find time, whatever their emotional and sexual preoccupations may be, to be interested in and participate in a very wide spectrum of human existence. To serve them up the kind of stuff of which Forever consists is to underestimate totally their ability to think and to feel, not only about themselves but about the whole complexity of living that goes on around them.

Nor is that Judy Blume's only major fault. Forever has a bad taste, a want of sensibility, a heavy-handed clumsiness that is breath-taking. The reader's reaction is laughter—anything from an embarrassed snigger to falling out of a chair with hilarity—when he ought to feel moved or excited or enthralled. (pp. 173-74)

Consider the artless banality of this: "I came right before Michael and as I did I made noises, just like my mother." It's the same sort of language as "I went into the kitchen and fixed myself a cup of coffee." Most writers are aware that human activity is enormously rich and varied, and to give value to that variety, what is linguistically apt for one thing is inappropriate to another. But not so Judy Blume. She has no sense of the incongruous, not even a sense of humor. (p. 175)

One could go on with other examples, but it hardly seems worth it. It's enough to say that the triviality of her thinking is matched by the sheer shoddiness of her English. She employs the usual sub-Salingerese American first-person narration, but so unmemorably that it makes Paul Zindel's use of the technique look like startling originality. There is absolutely nothing in Judy Blume's style that defines it as specifically hers…. Judy Blume's novels are the ultimate in the read-it-and-throw-it-away kind of book. They seem to be saying that when you've read the text you'll be equipped to do the real thing and you won't have to bother with the tedious business of coming back to a story to find out what it's like. In other words, they are not only short-changing the young; they are...

(The entire section is 1466 words.)