This was Week 2 of the Summer of Shelf Discovery at Girl Detective. Before I talk about the book I chose to re-read this week, a few thoughts about Shelf Discovery itself. One is that I’ve been reminded of how personal an act reading is and perhaps even more so for re-reading. Two people can read the same book and have entirely different experiences that have nothing to do with the quality of the book itself. We choose to re-read books for all kinds of reasons but for most of us our time is precious so what we choose to re-read is even more personal than what we choose to read. We might read something that a friend gives us based solely on their recommendation but we’re less likely to re-read for any but the most personal reasons.
This week I skimmed ahead in Shelf Discovery and was struck by how many of the chapters include books that I’ve never heard of. Many also leave out books I’d definitely include. There are also books that Skurnick remembers fondly and that I read but sincerely wish I could purge from my mind (Flowers in the Attic for one). The subtitle of Shelf Discovery is “The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading: A Reading Memoir” and I think the part of that to emphasize is that this is in essence a memoir. Reading it as a memoir and not as a definitive list of the best in YA fiction helped me to enjoy it more. I often disagree with Skurnick’s views about books but I’ve appreciated the way Shelf Discovery and this project have brought back my own reading memories.
Week Two was all about books about puberty. I’d read many of them and enjoyed them. I chose to re-read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume because it’s become kind of the iconic book about puberty. It’s also one that has been controversial since published so I thought it would be interesting to revisit.
I never really understood the controversy myself and after re-reading I still don’t. Yes, there is the pre-pubescent interest in the opposite sex but it’s pretty tame. I suppose it could be the idea of a girl being allowed to choose her own religion as Margaret embarks on her year-long religion project. However, I’d prefer to see a book where a girl is thinking about spirituality even if she is confused rather than one where there is no discussion of spiritual matters.
What I remembered about Margaret was the first bra and the girls wanting to get their periods and a little bit about he religious search. But on re-reading I realized that what I liked about Margaret then is the same thing I like now- I identified with her then and I’m reminded of what it was like then reading her now.
Judy Blume gets the big things right; the wanting to be like everyone else, the worrying about being normal if you develop to early or too late, the trying to fit in. But even more importantly she is perfect on the little things. The friend who you can’t figure out if she is really a friend or sort of an enemy. The square dance (in our case Cotillion) where the boys all step on your feet (we got them back at the annual Holly Ball by poking them with our corsages full of holly leaves). The Boy Book where Margaret has to list boys she likes but just writes down random names to be like the other girls. I can completely remember doing that, just picking a boy to say I “liked” because everyone else liked someone.
For me, it’s all those little details that add up to make this one an absolute classic of the pre-teen years.
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