I remember the summer that I discovered the “older” section of my local library’s children’s department. It had books by authors like Paula Danziger, Lois Duncan, and the goddess Judy Blume. I tore through them all between 4th and 6th grade (and then moved on to Stephen King). And while I knew that I loved these books, I also knew that I didn’t quite understand everything going on in them. Until health class. And then I understood more than I bargained for.
Honestly, Judy Blume was so far ahead of her time, writing about subjects that nobody else would come near. Not only did she write about what it was like to hit puberty, she did it in great detail, making every kid who read her books — boys and girls — understand that they were not alone. She took regular kid problems, that lots of kids probably were afraid to talk to their parents about, and made them seem normal and manageable.
When I originally read these books, I didn’t realize how alike they were. Margaret and Tony go through really similar life changes in their books, but the stories are simply told through the eyes of a girl in one story, and a boy in the other.
Both kids move to new towns before the start of the school year. Both worry about making new friends. Both start going through puberty, and worry about the changes happening to them, absolutely positive that these changes aren’t normal but afraid to ask about them.
Most of you know about Margaret. She’s one of Judy Blume’s most famous creations. Going into the 6th grade in a new town, Margaret makes friends with her new neighbor, Nancy, and a few of Nancy’s friends. They form a club and talk about boys, bras, and periods. Like with all girls that age, there’s some interesting interactions…a little lying to each other, some friendly (and some not so friendly) competition, and lots of gossip and rumors.
Meanwhile, Margaret is struggling with her faith. Her father is Jewish and her mother is Christian, and Margaret decides that its time for her to figure out just what she is. She spends time praying and arguing with her grandmother about what’s best for her, but she just isn’t sure she’s ready to commit to either religion.
I was glad to see that the book had been updated since I last read it, and that poor Margaret didn’t have to figure out the hooks and belts on her pad when she finally got her period.
Here is the cover of the book when I first read it:
And here’s the cover of Bunnybean’s version:
I followed up AYTGIMM with Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, which I actually ended up liking a little bit better this time. I think when I originally read it, I didn’t understand a lot of what Tony was going through. Like, a lot. I had no idea what he was talking about most of the time.
Tony and his family are working class Italian Americans in Jersey City. When Tony’s dad invents an electrical cartridge (???) they suddenly find themselves exceptionally wealthy and move to a mansion on Long Island. Tony tries to fit in, makes a few new friends, but is never completely comfortable with all that comes with his family’s new wealth.
Tony also spends his time being a peeping tom and watching his neighbor’s sister get undressed every night. This bugged the hell out of me.
Meanwhile, Tony suffers from stomach pains whenever something stresses him out. His neighbor (who is even richer than he is) loves to shoplift, and Tony can’t handle it. His mother is obsessed with appearances, and Tony doesn’t like it. His brother has given up his dreams to become a teacher, and Tony thinks he’s a sell out. All of this lands him in the hospital and to sessions with a psychologist, where Tony airs out a lot of his grievances.
Tony wonders about puberty, just like Margaret. And where Margaret struggled with religion, Tony struggles with wealth. But the books are really quite alike, and they hold up pretty well.
Nobody has cell phones or texts, kids listen to records and ride bikes everywhere. And these kids admirably figure things out for themselves, and try to maneuver through their pre-teen years making as few major mistakes as possible. These are good kids, and made other kids realize that they if Margaret and Tony were normal, then they were normal, too.