Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume

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9781416531043: Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume
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A collection of personal essays by some of today's most popular young adult and women's fiction writers considers the ways in which the books of Judy Blume influenced their emotional, social, and physical developments, in a volume that includes contributions by Meg Cabot, Cara Lockwood, and Megan McCafferty. 50,000 first printing.

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About the Author:

Jennifer O'Connell received her BA from Smith College and her MBA from the University of Chicago. She is the author of Insider Dating, Bachelorette #1, Dress Rehearsal, Off the Record, and Plan B. Visit her website at www.jenniferoconnell.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Then. Now. Forever...

Megan McCafferty

Then

You can't blame Mrs. Henderson for giving her daughter a copy of Forever on her eleventh birthday. Like all of us in Girl Scout Troop 196, Kim was a die-hard Judy Blume fan. Of course, I prided myself on being the most avid admirer of all, the only one in our troop to have read every Judy Blume book available in the Bayville Elementary School library, from Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret to Then Again, Maybe I Won't. So as I watched Kim tear open the Smurf wrapping paper to reveal a previously unheard-of novel by my favorite author -- one that promised a timeless teenage love story on its cover -- I became instantly and insanely jealous.

And that was before I learned that Forever was The Sex Book.

This discovery didn't take long, as I had taken it upon myself to "hold on" to the book as Kim opened up other gifts. I feigned interest in her new Duran Duran cassette, the assortment of rainbow ribbon barrettes, even the Cabbage Patch doll named Annalisa Marie. My fascination with the book and disinterest in the birthday loot deepened, until I was finally able to usher Kim and the rest of the guests upstairs to her bedroom.

"Listen to this," I whispered as I went on to read the book's notorious first sentence, about a girl genius named Sybil who had "been laid by at least six different guys." Been laid! In the first sentence! Could this be the same Judy Blume I knew and loved? I wondered what was more stunning: The sex or its source? It was a far cry from the bust enhancement exercises in Margaret or even the wet dreams in...Maybe I Won't.

With the provocative opening as incentive, Kim, the other girls, and I bounced up and down on the frilly pink canopy bed, each taking turns skimming through the book, trying to outdo each other with the discovery of another dirty passage. Page 20: Michael tried to unhook Katherine's bra. Page 25: Michael felt her up under her sweater, then fumbled on the snap of her jeans. Page 40: Katherine's eleven-year-old sister accused her of "fucking" Michael in her bedroom!

Our fingers flew over page after page, only stopping when we hit a word such as "sex," "sexy," "moans," "penis," "sex," or "sex." Not surprisingly, we gave ourselves away. Mrs. Henderson -- alerted by our eardrum-cracking shrieks -- came through Kim's door, demanding to know the source of our hysterics. Mrs. Henderson was a divorcée, the neighborhood Avon lady, and our acting troop leader. She favored pearly pink lipstick, acid-washed jeans, and brassy hair teased to Jersey perfection -- a combination of artistry and products that I admired and never mastered. We all loved Mrs. Henderson and copped to the book's carnal content just as quickly as she removed it from Kim's clutches. She must have known that Troop 196 viewed her as being more hip and progressive than the other moms, so rather than merely banning Forever from our fourth-grade social circle, Mrs. Henderson told all our mothers that she would be happy to lend it to anyone in the troop, if they gave written parental permission.

My mother, of course, flatly refused. Though she didn't seem that different from Mrs. Henderson on the outside -- she, too, wore jeans and rarely left the house without applying mascara or "hot rollering" her highlighted blonde hair -- she was, at heart, the result of sixteen years of Catholic education.

"Mooooooooom," I whined as she prepared that night's dinner, something involving red meat and a few token vegetables in a crock pot. "Why can't I read it?"

"It's not appropriate for a ten-year-old," she replied without looking away from the flesh on the cutting board.

"I'm almost eleven!" My birthday was, in fact, a week after Kim's.

"It's not appropriate for an eleven-year-old!" she said, slicing down the blade. "I'm not sure it's appropriate for anyone at all!"

"Mooooooooom."

"Megan Beth, if you want to know about..." She hesitated here, waving her knife in the air. "That sort of thing...you should ask me."

This was a horrifying and altogether impossible proposition. Who wanted to talk to her mom about that sort of thing? But my mother had invoked my middle name, so I knew better than to continue my fight. Fortunately, all my years as a precocious book lover had paid off. Reading comprehension was my strong suit, so even though I'd only skimmed the book, I got the gist of the whole plot: Katherine and Michael were seniors in high school. They met. They fell in love. And they had sex.

Some crucial details I committed to memory and could still recall twenty-one years later:

1. Michael named his penis Ralph (page 73).

2. Michael "came" too soon, before they got a chance to do it (page 100. I had only the vaguest idea what that meant. Something came out of him? Like pee? And why would that stop them from doing it?)

3. Michael devirginized Katherine on a multicolored rug because her blood could have stained the bedsheets (page 101).

After Kim's sleepover, Forever turned into a game I played alone in my bedroom. Katherine (my Brooke Shields doll) made love with Michael (Ken) in an empty tissue-box bed. Pre-Forever, making love had meant sleeping in a bed naked with someone. Very little effort involved. Post-Forever, I pretended that Ralph was hidden inside Brooke-as-Katherine. Of course, Ken-as-Michael didn't have a penis, and his anatomical incorrectness suited my fantasies just fine. I still wasn't sure what a penis looked like, having only glimpsed at my baby brother's teeny unit as my mother changed his diaper, but I was simultaneously enthralled and repelled by the idea of seeing one. My nascent pangs of lust left me confused and queasy, similar to the nausea I felt whenever I tried to read a book in the backseat of a moving car.

Later that spring, Troop 196 earned points toward community service badges by cleaning up a local beach. After a heated argument in Mrs. Henderson's minivan over one pop star's supremacy (Cyndi Lauper vs. Madonna was a popular debate at the time, and I was always in the minority opinion), the other girls piled out of the van together singing "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" louder than necessary as I stomped off to a more secluded area to work by myself. I stuffed my trash bag in defiance, silently mouthing the lyrics to my favorite song. Like a virgin. (Hee!) Touched for the very first time...

It was almost time to head back when I discovered a tattered copy of Playgirl hidden among the bottle caps and cigarette butts in the dune grass. The centerfold was miraculously intact. The model was in full-on hair-band mode, wearing a black leather studded jacket and nothing else. He was posed in front of a microphone, head thrown back, eyes shut tight as if he were belting out a power ballad...or on the verge of splooging all over the stage. His ginormous penis was obviously impressed with the performance, as it was in the throes of a standing ovation.

Even at eleven years old, this whole setup struck me as absurd. I mean, what would possess this guy to perform in a leather jacket and no pants? Duh. It made me wonder how Katherine could possibly look at Ralph-the-Penis without cracking up. How could she get hot and bothered by the idea of that...that...thing poking around inside her? It made no sense.

As unsexy as it was, I had no doubt that my fellow Scouts would take a prurient interest in the centerfold. My find could catapult me into popularity, if only for the rest of the afternoon. But I also knew if Mrs. Henderson found out and told my mom, the possession of pornographic materials would surely lead to a major grounding. My parents would be appalled, but my peers would be impressed. It was the virgin/whore, Cyndi/Madonna conundrum, and in this case, the good girl in me won out. I stuffed the Playgirl pages deep in my trash bag and didn't say another word about them.

Not long after that mystifying first introduction to the male genitalia, my mom took it upon herself to educate me in that sort of thing. She brought me across the street to my best friend Adrienne's house, which to this day remains the most orderly and pristine place I have ever visited. If Adrienne or her mom ever wore jeans, they were of the starched-stiff, high-waisted variety that could be subcategorized as slacks within the taxonomy of denim. We sat on the plump couch. Me, slumped and skeptical. Adrienne, respectful and ramrod straight like the ballet dancer she was. Together, in their darkened, dust-free family room, we watched a very special filmstrip borrowed from the middle school health class I would take two years later.

The mere mention of the word "filmstrip" hopelessly dates me, I know. As a brief primer for those who have come of age in the digital era, a filmstrip entertained and informed one boring picture at a time, with a breathy narrator on a cassette tape going on at length about the subject represented by each still frame. When the anonymous speaker finished her oration, the cassette would signal the need to manually forward the reel to the next boring picture with a mechanical-sounding BOOOOOP!

A diagram of the female reproductive system. BOOOOOP! A bottle of douche with a red slash warning that it is not a valid method of birth control. BOOOOOP! A grinning girl running rapturously through a field of wildflowers feeling so free and April fresh...ummm...because she has just used the douche for nonbirth-control purposes? BOOOOOP! This last image was particularly striking. I had just branched out of the Blume canon to read Go Ask Alice, and it seemed more likely to me that this girl was having some sort of acid freak-out and was not, as the voice-over implied, simply carried away by the joys of reproductive maturation.

It was this primitive form of audiovisual infotainment that taught me all about the 3 P's: Puberty, Periods, and Pregnancy. I'd go th...

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