Back in elementary school, and definitely around 4th and 5th grade, just like in any good respectable public school back in the early '80s, Judy Blume books reigned supreme. Beverly Cleary and the Encyclopedia Brown books ran a close second, but began fading as girls got older and more mature and began to wonder just what in the world was waiting for them around the corner. I assume. Our librarian, bless her, definitely pushed the Judy Blume. And clueless boy that I was, I read lots of it without really realizing what it was all about. Definitely Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. But I also read Blubber, Deenie and Tiger Eyes. I don't remember much about them to this day, other than...well, I think Deenie was about a girl with...scoliosis, maybe? (I could look online, but that would spoil all the fun of me not knowing, and of you Judy Blume fans amused at my ignorance.) Also had a masturbation scene in there, I believe, that I only got after I reread the pertinent chapter, for some reason. And Blubber was the consummate anti-bullying book. Still should be required reading for tweens, I think. But it's only now, after reading this, that I actually learned that Margaret was partially about a girl getting her first period. Like I said, I was clueless. (I know you all are smirking at me. I feel it.)
I have great respect for Judy Blume. I mean, she wrote quite honestly about issues that I think are incredibly important to girls growing up and hitting puberty. The fact that her books have been banned many times also warms my heart - you know someone's doing something right if it rankles the old guard like that - although it bums me to know that some girls never got a chance to read her books. It makes me wish she had a male counterpart. Robert Cormier comes to mind right off, but he dwelled mainly on the bullying aspect of being a teenage boy...usually uncomfortably so. The Chocolate War was brilliant, and I devoured it time and again, but man, he reveled in torturing his characters...protagonists, enemies, incidentals, all of 'em. Plus, the book took place at a private boarding school, so it reeked of privilege and money, making the shenanigans there even more evil than usual. So he wasn't the most pleasant writer. At some point, I also plowed through I Am The Cheese, but apparently it didn't make much of an impact on me, aside from the ending, where (again, without looking online for spoilers) I think there was...a glorious and triumphant suicide? That's quite the paradox, but if I'm right, that's exactly what happens. I also loved all the Jack London stories, taking place in the wilderness of Canada and Alaska, the ultimate brave and valiant struggle of man vs. nature. But really, that was it for major writers I knew who hit the target for me back when I was a tween, give or take.
Fun fact: I actually lost Deenie for a while back in 5th grade, and I had to suffer the embarrassment of the librarian calling my name out a number of times in front of the whole class that the book was overdue. It kinda begged the question: what kind of a pervert boy would keep a book with a girl's masturbation scene over a month beyond its due date? I swear on a stack of all things true and holy, not me. I honestly did lose it, and was all too thrilled to return the book and not endure that shame.
Okay, now that I've looked at more of the Judy Blume canon...my God, did she write a lot of books! Freckle Juice, Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself, Forever, Then Again, Maybe I Won't, Superfudge, Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing, The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo...wow. Her influence extends a lot further than I originally thought it had. I've read all of 'em. (And that's not even all she wrote.) Color me impressed.