in recent years

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back to school with judy blume: otherwise known as sheila the great

Dear Judy,

First, allow me to apologize for my tardiness. This is not a Festive-Ass Flicks Situation, I literally lost a day this week and still have no idea whether it was Monday or Tuesday that I left in the dust somewhere. I thought yesterday was Tuesday and woke up this morning, ready to finish reading and write to you, but discovered it was Thursday while checking the weather. I even had a conversation with my dad about it being Wednesday yesterday because we both thought it was Tuesday. Was it aliens, Judy? I’m scared.

Second, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great was pretty okay! Sheila is particularly irritating, even as a background character in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, so I wasn’t particularly surprised at how irritating she was in her own book. I was surprised by how irritating everyone else was though.

Libby is a brat and Mouse is such a snot — I swear if she said “Don’t you think?” while trying to convince Sheila to be honest one more time I was going to reach through the book and smack her — and the twins are terrible. But as I grew more and more frustrated with them, I remembered: kids are awful, just utterly unbelievably awful. I was one. I was awful. Well done, Judy.

Part of why Sheila is so frustrating is because I was her, I was totally and completely her as a kid, and it’s really unpleasant — no matter how long it’s been, I’m 27! — to be reminded of what a monster you were. I was bossy and manipulative and I lied a lot because I just wanted people to like me. I even made a newspaper once! But I was at least smart enough to delegate stories to other kids. (I wrote a review of Mrs. Doubtfire and another girl went to work with her mom for a day and wrote about it. That’s all I can remember at this point. I’m getting so old.)

In the end, that was the saving grace of the book for me and made the irritation and frustration of youth worth it. I know that Sheila will grow up into a pretty awesome person. I know because I did. I know she’ll figure out that lying is a waste of her creativity as a person, that her bossiness can be better spent on getting things done when they need to be, and that… Well, she’ll probably realize that manipulating people is actually really useful and it will last well into adulthood. Sorry, Sheila. Two out of three ain’t bad.

Thanks for reminding me of where I came from, Judy. I needed it.

– Ash

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