A User’s Guide to Judy Blume

Or: a letter to my niece, who is five.

Scaachi Koul is a senior writer at BuzzFeed Canada, formerly the managing editor of Hazlitt. Her debut collection of essays, The Pursuit of...

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Dear Raisin,

I don’t have much advice for you. I likely never will. When you get older, you’ll know better than to ask me: Your mom is smarter, kinder, and taller than I am. In most cases, she’ll know better than anyone else.

But one thing I can tell you is that, regardless of how close you end up being with her, there are just some things you can’t talk about with your family. So if you ever need something you can’t get from any of us, I think you should ask Judy.

You don’t know Judy yet, because you are you five years old, and you cannot read. But she’ll be around when you’re ready. I read a bunch of her books when I was little—Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret; Blubber; Here’s To You, Rachel Robinson. I tried to read Forever… but I think your grandmother took it away from me halfway through. Just as well—I was 12 and Judy Blume’s sex scenes were getting me far too horned up.

Is it weird to hear your aunt say “horned up”? Tough truth, little girl. Just like the ones Judy will tell you.

Judy will be with you when you get your first period, when you have your first crush, when you’re dumped for the first time, when you lose your first friend. Everything that’s wonderful or painful, Judy will have something to say about it.

I’ll send you her books as you grow up, first Freckle Juice and Superfudge, then Iggy’s House and Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself. I’ll send you Tiger Eyes only if I think you can take such sadness. If your mom says it’s okay, I’ll slip you a copy of Then Again, Maybe I Won’t because being a boy isn’t easy either. And when you hit your early 20s and the world really starts to ache, I’ll give you Summer Sisters. Because, while I’d like to protect you from all the things that are going to go wrong in your life—girls or boys who make you feel “that way” and friends who betray you and family dynamics that were built long before you were even a thought—I can’t, and maybe I shouldn’t. You can’t tuck me in your purse when you graduate from high school or stash me in your backpack when your grandparents inevitably die, but when you feel nervous or scared or excited or angry, you can take Judy with you.

That’s what I did, anyway.

Third Grade

The sooner you learn this, the better: no one is born with empathy. Most people start out blank husks, and unless they’re taught to know better, they can grow to be unspeakably cruel. I wish you could read Blubber before you start kindergarten next year, because I think it would equip you with the empathy that so few of us develop before we’re sent out in the world. The book isn’t so much about the overweight girl everyone at school is piling on, but rather, one of the girls who gets roped into being awful to her. Do you bully anyone at daycare? I hope not. I hope you know how hard it is to be even a little bit different.

Is anyone bullying you? I don’t think so, at least not yet. You’re skinny right now, this tiny body with noodle-like arms and legs. You have big hair and all your baby teeth and eyes that look like electric-blue Lifesavers. You’re half-brown but you look all white. You pass for a prototypical cute white girl. For now, it seems to save you the trouble of being different. But I hope you know it’s okay to be different.

The older you get, the more you’ll feel the impact of a body that won’t do what you want. You might notice it when you start school in the fall, with other kids who are bigger than you, taller or shorter, different colours and shapes. Try to be kind. It’ll be hard, particularly when there are people egging you on to be vicious. But try to remember Blubber, and remember Linda, and why no one deserves what she got.

Most of the people I talked to about Blubber seemed to remember the scene where the whole class tricks Linda into singing the word “breast” all by herself in choir. What I remembered the most was when they locked her in a closet during lunch. I know you’re all points and straight lines, but I’m soft curves and round belly and big thighs. Somewhere, this kind of body could be in your blood. Remember that if you ever feel your talons emerging. Be kind. Don’t turn other girls into enemies just because you see other people doing the same. Be kind to everyone until they give you a good reason to be vicious.

Sixth Grade

Do you realize I was 10 when I got my period? That’s too early, trust me. I’ve been bleeding from a hole in my body for 14 years and, somehow, have not yet dropped dead. The female body is remarkable. You will grow to be amazed at all the things it withstands without combusting. Never forget this: men are weak. It’s why so many of them try to destroy women.

I first read Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret when I was nine, and I didn’t understand most of it. In the 1970s edition of the book, which I stole from an older cousin, Margaret uses a pad with a belt when she gets her period, something that neither you nor I will ever have to do. The newer version I have from just last year is updated to include an adhesive pad, but somehow, nothing else about the book needs updating.

When I got my period, I thought I was dying and I didn’t tell your grandmother for five days. When I finally did, she laughed, gave me a box of pads, and sent me to the bathroom. We didn’t talk about it much but I remember that the girls in Judy’s book said getting your period was a good, important thing. It would make you an adult and—more importantly—was a big step towards having a boy notice and kiss you. (Last we talked, you told me you were engaged to some boy, but that he wasn’t “into it” anymore. His loss, frankly.)

But Are You There, God? isn’t just about becoming a woman and growing giant cans. (Which, by the way, you should be patient for. I didn’t get Cs until university and now, my cup runneth over and I spend most mornings trying to stuff my fat sacks into B-cup bras. Bra shopping is far worse than having small boobs.) Margaret is also looking for God, she just isn’t sure where to find one. Is she Jewish or Christian? Her parents are letting her choose but her grandparents have their own interests.

By the end of the book (spoiler, but, also, this book came out 40 years ago, so cool it, little girl), Margaret doesn’t come to any conclusion. But neither do you. Your dad was raised Hindu, your mom Christian. My parents take you to temple sometimes and you eat Indian food at their house, but on Christmas, you go to Midnight Mass with your mom. (You won’t remember this, but when you were three, I came with you and snuck you pieces of chocolate at church.) Your grandfather had to work hard to come around to having Christian in-laws. He’s still working on it. I wonder if you notice.

That’s the other thing about Judy’s books: none of them have clean breaks. You’ll find that a lot of other YA books offer you a tidy conclusion, something intended to let you sleep at night. Judy doesn’t do that because life doesn’t work like that. You’re not supposed to know what happens next, and no one can guarantee that everything will go the way you hoped.

Seventh grade

Just when you think life is over, you find out it’s not.” Remember this the next time you think the world is collapsing in on you. (You’re going to be a teenage girl soon; you will feel this all the time.)

By the time you read Here’s To You, Rachel Robinson, I’m sure you’ll have a strong urge to seek out justice. You’ve always been like that: once, your grandfather tickled you and you got so mad that you took a swing at him. When you missed, you almost threw yourself to the ground. You were so furious that you balled your fists up and had to take a bunch of deep breaths to calm down. I held you and walked around the house to get you to stop grinding your teeth with fury.

This book will make you feel like that. Rachel’s brother Charles is a manipulative little shit, and you’ll hate him, god, you’ll hate him. You don’t have any siblings, but you’ll know what I mean. Besides Charles, Rachel has to contend with a new, older boy who might like her, and all the forces that get in your way when you just want what you want when you want it. What’s wrong with wanting things? What’s wrong with craving order? Nothing, maybe, but I just want you to be ready for people not giving you what you want, even when you’ve worked really hard for it.

You can’t tuck me in your purse when you graduate from high school or stash me in your backpack when your grandparents inevitably die, but when you feel nervous or scared or excited or angry, you can take Judy with you.

Also, you won’t know this, but Here’s To You, Rachel Robinson is a reference to a movie about a young dude who has an affair with an older lady. People will tell you it’s great but it’s not that great. Instead, watch the episode of The Simpsons where Grandpa Simpson and Mr. Burns both vie for Marge’s mom. “Mrs. Bouvier” is a way better line and you won’t walk away feeling like an empty shell of a person.

Eleventh grade

Sometimes when I’m trying to fall asleep, I’m kept up by the fact that one day you will be 16, and dating someone stupid. We can’t save you from this. It’s inevitable and tragic. (Have I ever told you about the guy I dated who asked me to buy a filter for his bong and then forcibly made out with me while I watched two homeless men behind him get in a fight outside Christie station? You might be too young for this. Call me in 2025.)

Remember what I said about none of Judy’s books coming to clean conclusions? You’re never going to break up with a guy and feel fine. It’s never going to be convenient or comfortable. Forever… won’t offer that either. Katherine and Michael fall in love, have great sex, small fights, and then collapse under the pressure of long distance. There’s no cathartic reunion, no reassurance that our heroes will find love again. It feels like a real breakup: like you may have made a huge mistake and you’ll end up alone forever.

The only unrealistic part about the book, maybe, is the likelihood of you having an orgasm through penetration with your very first sexual partner. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m just saying there are some men who wouldn’t have known what to do with me even if I had shown them a Google Street View of my clitoris. Don’t be surprised if sex doesn’t work immediately. And if (when) you break up with the first guy who figures it out, don’t think he’s the only guy who knows how to do it. There are a lot of them. Find one with a good job who is nice to his mom and maybe knows how to take care of a plant. Hard not to trust a guy who owns succulents.

The book ends with so much hopefulness, and I think you can transfer that feeling to the rest of your life. Katherine and Michael break up, sure, but at least they had a lot of fun sex while they were together. They were fulfilled. It was real. And at the end? Katherine’s summer camp buddy, Theo, gives her a call.

There’s always a Theo around the corner, my girl.


You won’t meet her because I haven’t heard from her in years, but I had a best friend all through elementary and junior high and high school. We were polar opposites, like so many best friends tend to be, and I loved her like a sister. At sleepovers, she’d always fall asleep first and I’d look up at the ceiling of her parents’ basement and try to figure out how the universe could get this so wrong. Clearly I had a sister! How did she end up white with curly hair, blue eyes, and a face full of freckles?

I don’t talk to her anymore. It was a bad falling out. You and I don’t have sisters, so we have to make our own out in the world. I hope you find someone good. If you’re going to build a family of your own, pick good people.

Summer Sisters will be whatever book you need it to be. When you fall in love and you think this is the one, and it’s not, it’ll be that book. Or maybe you’ll need it when you feel your family is getting disjointed, your parents wanting one thing and you another. Your early 20s, I find, are a good time to look back at your short life and be filled with regret, so you should read it to cure that, too. Your grandfather sometimes tells me I’m too young to feel sad. Maybe I’ll end up saying that to you in 15 years.

There is something specific and heartbreaking about female friendships, something I’m sure you’ll find the older you get and the more complicated everyone becomes to you. The most intense of them start out so vivid and almost romantic, like you get possessive of this other person that only you understand, and who is the only person to understand you back. But when her behavior starts to feel foreign—and it will—and you think she’s turning into a stranger, Summer Sisters will help explain why it’s happening. I’m not going to tell you anything can fix that, the slow drift from a close friend, the way it makes you feel all alone, all over again. At the very least, it’ll let you know that you’re not the only one dealing with it.

If you do have a summer sister of your own, and she leaves, or you lose touch, or it just isn’t how it used to be, read this book. It’ll be your best friend if you need one. Maybe it will pull her closer to you. I wish I had read it right when my old friend and I stopped speaking and started fighting. Maybe we could have talked about it and saved whatever was left between us. I could have recognized that I was being Caitlin—needy, fun, lonely, wanton—and she was being Vix—orderly, cold, admirable, accomplished. I would have been able to recognize my own insecurities and she could have realized how much we needed each other. But maybe I’m putting too much pressure on a book.

I only just read it a few weeks ago. I wish I had it when this whole mess started. It would have helped me let her go.

You’ll never meet my summer sister, but Vix is a close second, maybe as close as we’ll ever get. You look like her! I used to get so sad looking at you sometimes, because somehow, you turned out looking so much like the sister I never actually had.

Summer Sisters is maybe the best of Judy because it manages to be everything. It digs a knife deeper into your wounds but heals you all the same.

Almost anything you read by Judy is just a version of everything you have ever felt. Judy already knows your thoughts. She’s written them down, the humiliating parts, the wretched ones, the glorious moments, and handed them back to you. Judy already knows that you’re in love or that you’re masturbating or that you have questions about sex or what’s going to happen after you and your friend move to different cities. You’re not alone if you have Judy.

Anyway, let me know when you read this, probably in a few more years, when you learn how to turn on a computer without spilling apple juice on it. We’ll get you a library card and I’ll introduce you to Judy. You have no idea how many people consider her a best friend.

I love you to the moon and back,


Judy Blume’s new novel is In the Unlikely Event.


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