Judy Blume is a treasure that we probably don’t actually deserve — but we got her anyway, because sometimes we get lucky.
Blume’s earnest and candid writing about puberty, menstruation, sex, relationships, and friendships was not only groundbreaking when they were first published in the 1970s, but they’ve literally shaped the time we’re in now. She has helped countless teens deal with the strangeness of growing up — her books tackle pretty much everything, including racism, menstruation, divorce, bullying, masturbation, and sexuality.
Over the years, she’s wracked up accolades: Blume was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress in 2000; she received the annual Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Medal of the National Book Foundation in 2004. Last year, at 79, she awarded the E.B. White Award, a lifetime achievement award for children’s literature.
In honor of Blume’s 80th (!) birthday today, we decided to round up some of her best and most beloved books of her extremely long career. Blume has published some 30 books — for children, teens, and adults — that, combined, have sold over 82 million copies worldwide.
You really can’t go wrong with any book by Judy Blume. But these are our absolute favorites:
This, of course, is Blume’s best known and most canonical work — with good reason. Everyone has read this book, especially around the time you get your first period. I remember reading this book when I was 11 — it was as if Blume was whispering in my head like some cool, big-sister fairy godmother, telling me all the secrets about young adulthood and crushes and feeling insecure.
Isn’t it crazy to think writing about menstruation was taboo when it was first published in 1970? Clearly, this book is number one.
Blume is not often thought about as being a Jewish writer in the mainstream — but many of her books deal with Jewish identity, like Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself. This novel is about a young Jewish girl who moves from New Jersey to Miami Beach, and tries to find her place in the world. Sally dreams of Hollywood stardom, and also finds herself with interests that her friends don’t share. It’s a great book about someone who feels different — which is valuable for pretty much any kid.
It is also loosely autobiographical, as Blume said it was inspired by her own childhood post-World War II, as she wrote in a new epilogue of the book, “When I was ten I was a lot like Sally… curious, imaginative, a worrier.” A book for all dreamers, this is a close second.
This is the book that all adults should read about friendship — especially the complexities of female friendship. So many great novels focus on romantic loves gained and lost, but Summer Sisters but this focuses on friendships (while giving us a little taste of everything else, too).
We’ve all experienced that consuming, almost obsessive friendship; the betrayals that happen with miscommunication — and how our friendships are often the focal points of our lives, even when we don’t think they are. While the tone is different from some of Blume’s other books, and decidedly a lot more sexual (it’s for grownups!), it’s so unique and refreshing.
4. Tiger Eyes
Tiger Eyes focuses on a teen named Davey whose family is uprooted from Atlantic City to New Mexico after the sudden death of her father. This book is also loosely based upon Blume’s life, as she divorced her first husband — the father of her son, filmmaker Lawrence Andrew — in the mid-seventies, and the family moved to New Mexico when Blume remarried.
Andrew said when he read the book that “it affected me deeply.”
Blume echoed this: “The divorce was hard, and what brought us to New Mexico was a guy. I don’t want to get into all that—but there was the good and the bad and the evil and the ugly.” For anyone who has lost a parent or been through a divorce (as a kid or an adult), it’s definitely relatable.
In typical Blume fashion, this books deals with a hard topic: bullying. The brilliance of the book — written for middle schoolers, a time when teasing (and, um, basically everything) becomes worse — is that the protagonist, Jill, is on the sidelines of the bullying. At least at first.
Jill is friends with mean-girl Wendy, the most popular girl in their 5th grade class. When Wendy decides that Linda, the “nerd,” should be teased (notably called “Blubber”), Jill goes along with it. When Jill finally does stand up to Wendy, we see the tables turn in a cruel way — and, well, you see where this is going. While books on preteen and teen bullying aren’t necessarily a fresh idea today, this was groundbreaking for its time and well worth a read now.
This book is for anyone who was ever self-conscious about their appearance (aka: ALL OF US). Deenie, a 7th grader who is conventionally attractive and training to be a model, recently finds out she has scoliosis and needs a Milwaukee back brace (meaning it’s a brace that comes up under her chin). For anyone who has dealt with a chronic illness, body dysmorphia (and other eating disorders) and bullying, this is an amazing read.
To see Deenie’s modeling plans ruined is heartbreaking — but it’s also freeing in its own way. While some of the book can feel dated (it was published in 1973), both feeling insecure and learning not to judge a book by its cover are eternal.
Wifey is Blume’s controversial, first adult novel. Published in 1978, it details Sandy Pressman’s decision to have an extramarital affair with an old high school boyfriend — only to suspect her husband is having an affair as well. This book details desire, long-term relationships, sexuality, and all the complications of living a pragmatic life versus a passionate one. This book is also loosely based upon Blume’s own marriage at the time, which eventually ended in divorce.
My first novel for adult readers! Funny and baaad, Sandy Pressman was raised to lead a fifties life. You know… grow up, get a college degree in case, god forbid, you ever have to go to work, marry well, have children and….that’s the problem…and what??? For Sandy, it’s the summer she begins to question her choices and give in to her fantasies.
When Wifey was published some people thought I would never write another children’s book, some thought I had written a real book at last, some were angry that I hadn’t used a pseudonym, others that I even had such thoughts! Plus, I began to hear from old boyfriends. And those who wanted to be.
How could you not want to read that?
Also, don’t forget to check out our video on Blume below if you want to find out more about her: