The books that helped me grow up


I had a best friend growing up, and I worshipped her. She understood me like nobody else understood me. She helped me through puberty and adolescence, and she taught me all about the pain of first love. She comforted me, and she made me feel normal. Many a night I used to huddle with her in my bedroom, rapturously devouring every word she said.

Her name was Judy. Judy Blume.

Judy and I have drifted apart now, but I will never forget the influence she had on my life. I had enjoyed reading before Judy came along, but it had always been the delight of a good story, rather than the joy of connecting deeply with the subject matter.

As an adolescent I loved books that took me out of my daily life and into the realm of fantasy. There were the Drina Dances books, about the orphaned ballet student Drina and her interesting adventures. There were Noel Streathfield’s trio of books:  Ballet Shoes about the theatrical Fossil sisters, White Boots about the skating Harriet, and Apple Bough about the musical Forum family. I also read dozens of books about girls at boarding schools riding ponies and playing lacrosse, and though I never figured out what lacrosse was, boarding school was perpetually fascinating to me.

Judy Blume didn’t take me out of my daily life. She WAS my life. She was in my head! In ‘Are You There God It’s Me Margaret’ she talked about periods and crushes on boys and conflict with friends as if she had written a book tailored just for me. In ‘Deenie’ she spoke of the agony of the teenager who was different, and though I didn’t wear a back brace, I could certainly relate to the emotions. In ‘Forever‘  she wrote of first love and losing your virginity, and reflected the shock and pain of losing the person you assumed was going to be your soulmate for life. And I lived through every word.

I moved on from Judy Blume to adult books about teenagers – Picnic At Hanging Rock, The Getting Of Wisdom, Great Expectations, The Harp In The South– and eventually I moved on to adult books about adults. But I never forgot Judy Blume. I can still recite lines from each of her novels – the scene where Margaret’s friend Wendy gets her period for the first time, the scene where Deenie takes off her back brace to go to a party, the scene where Kath first realises that she’s enjoying sex.

Judy didn’t just teach me about life. She taught me about resonance – that escapism is wonderful, but to discover the truth about oneself through literature is even better. She was the first author I truly loved. She was my childhood best friend, and I thank her for all she gave me.

What books were meaningful to you as a teenager?

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