When I was growing up in Malaysia (I’m living in London now), Judy Blume books were a rare thing and difficult to get. This didn’t stop it being such an important part of my life.
There are many things about childhood that I think about nowadays, especially about communication; talking about things. This is a rare function in an Asian family. The more sensitive a topic, the less it is talked about. It gets pushed aside or swept under the carpet, either until it blows over or until it blows up. Either way, it is not necessary to talk about things if it is not critical to do so.
My last blog entry reminded me of my primary school times. The time of physical change, of best friends, of puppy love, of growing up. I was lucky to have a sister who is five years older, who could be sympathetic and educate me about girly things when I started my period, started wearing bras, started being interested in boys. I am not sure how my sister learnt about all these things, whether she had any help from our parents. I know that I would have (as any teenager would say) died with embarrassment if I had to talk to my parents about these things.
In school, I remember sitting in for a talk about periods/menstruation. The first weird thing was that boys were not allowed in the room. Then, when we girls got back to class, we were just being teased by the boys about being disgusting and bloody. It was all very immature, but now I question it, why were we separated for the talk? The boys needed to know about it as much as we did too.
Sex education did not really begin until later in secondary school. Even then, we didn’t really talk about sex, it was more scientific, more about ejaculation, semen, ovum, etc. We giggled through it, but probably heeded no attention to the severity of what we were being taught.
Much of what I know of being a teenage girl, going through all these changes and coping with being flat chested was from Judy Blume. She was my saviour (together with my sister) in bringing me through the awkward times. I had read Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing and Superfudge first, and I promptly fell in love with Judy Blume’s writing. She understood what we were thinking about at that age. She writes as if a child was writing, truthfully, and there is nothing superfluous in her books. It made me trust her and want to read more of her works. It also made it impossible for me to think of New York as anything but Nu Yuck since. ;P
The two books that I managed to find afterwards and have re-read various times and cherish are Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret and Just As Long As We Are Together. Thinking about them makes me want to re-read them again. Perhaps it is time to dig them out.
Margaret spoke to me at a level that no one ever could. I did the exercises that Margaret did, shouting “I must, I must, I must increase my bust!” I wasn’t shy about exploring the changes in my body, or noticing that the interaction between boys and girls started to change too. I was envious of friends who developed quicker than me, but I knew enough to know that we will all get there at some point. I wasn’t worried. However, I did all these things in private and never spoke to anyone else, I just consulted Margaret. Sometimes, I even tried talking to God like Margaret did. I am now not religious at all, but I realise now that all these things helped me learn about myself, about discovering my own potential and character.
I had three best (girl) friends in primary school and we grew apart when we started secondary school (thirteen). All of us from primary school inevitably grew apart then and that made me sad. Even now, I still look back at those pure friendships that we had, never expecting, never assuming. Just As Long As We Are Together taught me about friendships and relationships. I learnt to make new friends in secondary school and to move on, but cherishing the good times from the past. When I went through any new turn in my friendships, I picked the book up and read about it again.
Books are very important in my life and I have a small list of important and favourite authors. Judy Blume is on the list, but she played a bigger role than the others. She was my guide and teacher, nurturing me through those difficult years of my life as an awkward teenager. Funnily, she is also one author that I have not yet read all of her writings. The four books mentioned above formed the basis of my teenage bibles.
So, imagine my surprise and joy when I started tweeting more actively earlier this year to find that Judy Blume is on Twitter. I am now in a sense directly in touch with my mentor. I decided to become a writer a couple of years back and have started working on a few serious projects, including a novel that I started this year. Reading Judy Blume’s tweets about setting out characters and how difficult it is to start the process of writing makes me feel like I am not alone. Judy Blume has inevitably become my mentor once again, at a different time of my life. I have been referring to her website for more writing tips and inspiration and am thankful to have found her again, after all these years.
I hope that my first novel will live up to my own expectations and that it will be the first of many. Though I have grown out of being that gangly, awkward teenager, she is still in me and I know that since I was young, I have always been quite an introvert, looking to books for comfort, for education, for fun. I learnt from books that it is important to be sociable as much as I learnt from books that they are able to transport me to somewhere safe and peaceful at times of peril. I have also learnt that I want to communicate through books too, through my own books.
Thanks Judy Blume for all that you have done for me. You are a true inspiration.