Judy Blume’s Legacy Highlighted in New Documentary

by Camille Borodey

In 1970, Judy Blume published her third novel, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret elevating her status as an influential voice in young adult literature. Fifty-two years later, generations of readers still enjoy the honesty and relatability of Blume’s stories, and at 85, the best-selling author is having a fantastic year. Last week, Prime Video released Judy Blume Forever, a documentary profiling the life and legacy of Blume, and on April 28th, a theatrical version of Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret is being released in theaters.

Directed by Davina Pardo & Leah Wolchok, Judy Blume Forever pays tribute to her life, books, and legacy. From her childhood living in New Jersey to her years as a young homemaker, which eventually led to her writing stories and becoming one of the most celebrated and controversial American authors, the documentary highlights how Blume changed young adult literature, especially for girls, by not being afraid to address topics like puberty, menstruation, sexuality, divorce, and death, and how her books have had a lasting impact on generations.

You don’t have to be a fan of Blume to find this documentary enjoyable. Blume recalls her life and experiences with a blend of warmth and vulnerability, and she displays passionate energy in the sections where she reads passages from her book. Judy Blume Forever also features interviews with celebrities Molly Ringwald and Samantha Bee, authors Mary H.K. Choi and Jacqueline Woodson, Blume’s two sons, and even book fans who Blume has corresponded with through letters over the years. It’s a treat to hear Blume read from her novels in a lively and emotional manner, and with each book, she gives us more insight into her personal life or events that inspired each story.

Book banning is a hot topic today, and Blume’s books have been met with much controversy over the years. In one section of the documentary, Blume offers insights from when she appeared on CNN’s “Crossfire” in 1984, admitting that she wishes she had done more research before appearing on the show. During the interview, commentator Pat Buchanan berates Blume for the short passages in her novel Deenie in which the title character explores her own body. Buchanan seems to cherrypick these passages and goes as far as to say the book is simply about “masturbation.” Blume corrects Buchanan and tells him that Deenie is a book about a 13-year-old girl that gets scoliosis and how it affects her life and family.

When I was in seventh grade, I remember one of my teachers telling my class that Judy Blume was one of the country’s most challenged and banned authors. Even as a kid, I thought this fact was funny. I could not understand why people thought her books were so controversial. What was so harmful about books that were simply about ordinary kids dealing with life issues while growing up? The kids in Blume’s books were all experiencing the same things as my peers and me, and the topics that seemed to upset people so much just seemed like natural parts of life. I was more impacted by how human Blume’s characters felt and the emotional journeys they went on. When I read Deenie in sixth grade, I hardly even thought about the scenes where Deenie explores her body; I was more fixated on how controlling her mother was and how she was more concerned about her daughter’s modeling career than her health.

As a kid who loved realistic fiction instead of fantasy, Blume’s books were a big part of my own growing up. In 4th grade, my teacher read our class Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing, the adventures of a boy and his mischievous two-year-old brother. In 5th grade, I read Blubber, the story of an overweight girl bullied by her classmates. In junior high, my best friend lent me her copy of Forever, insisting I read it. A big part of the documentary addresses how Forever is another book met with a high level of controversy because it addresses the topic of two high schoolers losing their virginities.

Many critics regard Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret as Blume’s most influential and memorable novel. Margaret is about an 11-year-old who moves from New York to the New Jersey suburbs. Her mother is Christian, her father is Jewish, and Margaret is raised without zero religious affiliation, but throughout the book, she frequently prays to god. Margaret and her friends start an after-school club where they discuss boys and puberty and anticipate their first periods. Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, who made her debut in 2016 with the coming-of-age comedy The Edge of Seventeen, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret stars Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, and Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret. This is surprisingly only the second of Blume’s novel to receive a theatrical adaptation. The first being a low-budget version of Tiger Eyes, directed by Blume’s son Lawrence in 2012.

A few years ago, I committed to getting back into reading, and I reread several of Blume’s books. After work, I would sit on my mother’s porch and spend the early evenings as the sun went down, reading Tiger Eyes, Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, and It’s Not the End of the World. Even as an adult, I found a timelessness in her stories that made them enjoyable and reminded me of all the crazy feelings that come with growing up. Judy Blume Forever is a lovely tribute that highlights what makes Blume’s legacy so special.