Are You There God? Judaism and Jewishness in Judy Blume's Adolescent Fiction

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Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 10,809 words

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[(essay date fall 2010) In the following essay, Krasner and Zollman examine the role of Judaism in Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret and the influence of religion in Blume's personal life.]

Most often recognized for her bestselling Young Adult novels, or her outspoken support of intellectual freedom, author Judy Blume also merits attention for her contributions to American Jewish children's literature. This article considers the portrayal of Judaism and Jewishness in Judy Blume's adolescent fiction. It examines Blume's two most explicitly Jewish-themed books, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret and Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, focusing on author intent, content, and reader reaction as a means of understanding Judaism/Jewishness in Blume's work.

In the 1960s and 70s, the genre of children's literature was transformed by the emergence of books written specifically for early adolescents and teens. Often issued immediately in affordable paperback editions, these books tackled adolescent issues from an adolescent's perspective. Despite the fact that demographically the number of adolescents was shrinking, marketers had hit on a winning strategy to attract an under-served audience with disposable cash. In a short time, Young Adult (YA) books became a lucrative industry, and the titles demanded ever-expanding shelf space in bookstores and public libraries.1

One of the early breakout authors of YA literature was Judy Blume. Her first book, The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo, was published in 1969. Forty-one years and twenty-eight books later, Blume remains extremely popular. Fourteen of her books were included on Publishers Weekly's most recent list of all-time best selling children's paperback books, with two titles, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (Dell, 1976) and Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (Dell, 1970) in the top ten.2

But if Blume is rightfully remembered alongside YA authors like Paul Zindel and Roald Dahl, she also deserves attention as one of the most widely read American Jewish children's authors. Between the 1950s and 1970s, American Jewish children's literature came into its own, with a handful of talented authors publishing with leading trade presses and attracting Jewish as well as non-Jewish readers with stories that shunned the "syrupy didacticism" of interwar Jewish juvenile fiction.3 These halcyon days of American Jewish children's literature were bookended by Sydney Taylor and Judy Blume. Taylor's All of a Kind Family series, with its sentimental yet vivid take on immigrant Jewish life, was particularly poignant to a generation of Jews bent on memorializing the Lower East Side even as they moved further and further away from it.4 Blume, in contrast, gave voice to the contemporary Jewish child in suburbia, fully integrated into American life, often dealing with generic adolescent issues like puberty, peer pressure, and body image. When Blume dealt with particularly Jewish issues, they likewise represented the true-to-life experiences of the increasingly affluent and assimilated. Blume was willing to tackle contemporary Jewish issues like the impact of the Holocaust on the American Jewish psyche and the growing phenomenon of intermarriage...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100109221