The Cult of Judy
By Varian Johnson
When I was a kid, I was a stereotypical nerd. I loved Star Trek, I was great at math, I had no athletic skills whatsoever, and I broke out into a cold sweat any time I tried to talk to a girl.
I got picked on a lot. Sometimes I was called a nerd or a geek, which wasn’t so bad. Sometimes I was called a sissy or accused of being girly, which I didn’t like at all. Other times, I was called things much, much, much worse.
I did what I could to blend in. I surrounded myself with a handful of close friends. I tried harder at sports (and failed). I laughed at whatever lame jokes the cool kids shared with the class. And I stopped bringing library books to school.
I loved to read. I loved books even more than Star Trek. Some of my favorite novels included The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar, and Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls.
But favorite author, by far, was Judy Blume.
I read every Judy Blume book I could get my hands on. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Deenie. Tiger Eyes. And of course, Forever.
Clearly, as an already ostracized kid, there was no way I was bringing a Judy Blume book to school. And I wasn’t just afraid of what the kids would say. I didn’t want my teachers to know what I was reading. I didn’t want them singling me out in class, telling me to put down my “girl” book for something else. Because if the kids were saying it and the adults were saying it, then maybe there really was something wrong with me…
So I stopped taking books to school.
But when I was at home, I could freely read whatever I wanted. My mother, bless her heart, never batted an eye at any of my book choices. She just wanted me to read good books. And novels by Judy Blume were some of the best.
Sometimes I wonder what type of author I would have become if I hadn’t read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret or Iggie’s House. I wonder what type of person I would have become if ten-year-old me hadn’t read about Margaret’s conversations with God, or Winnie’s interaction with the African-American family that moved into Iggie’s house. These books are not just for girls. These books are for readers, period. These are the books that shaped a generation, and I’m so glad to have experienced them when I needed them most.
I have my own family now. My girls aren’t even old enough for elementary school, but their shelves are filled with books. When they’re ready, I can’t wait for them to discover Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, The Princess in Black, When You Reach Me, One Crazy Summer, and Holes.
(And yes, even Forever.)
Because my girls deserve the right to read what they want to read without judgment or bias. They, like all readers, deserve stories for all.
Varian Johnson is the author of four novels, including award-winning and highly-acclaimed The Great Greene Heist and My Life as a Rhombus. Besides being a writer, he's a civil engineer, and with his wife, a parent to two young girls. Born in South Carolina, he lives outside Austin, Texas.