back to school with judy blume: then again, maybe i won't

Dear Judy Blume,

First, let me say that I’m sorry to hear about your recent bout with breast cancer and that I’m terribly glad that you were on the mend so quickly! And also thank you for writing about it with your usual honesty and good humor. You are as wonderful as ever.

Second, I read Then Again, Maybe I Won’t this week and it was nearly as enjoyable as Margaret. Granted, it is Margaret except with Tony’s boners, and wet dreams for Margaret’s periods and bras. And the central struggle with religion replaced with sudden wealth. Tony even moves to an unfamiliar suburb! Though for entirely different reasons than the Simons do.

Had I read this when I read Margaret, I would’ve been obsessed with boners and peeping on the neighbor girl and wet dreams because I was obsessed with boy things as a tween and teen. I know what periods and bras are like! I’ve been wearing a bra since I was, like, ten. But I’ve never had a boner! (I do remember the first boner I saw. I was in sixth grade. In high school I heard that he had three testicles. Three!)

As an adult though, I really loved the stuff about Joel constantly shoplifting and how much it upset Tony. When I was twelve or thirteen, one of my best friends shoplifted a bracelet from the dollar store at the mall and when she showed it to me I made her take it back! Because I too was completely outraged. She took it back and unlike Tony, it didn’t occur to me that I might look uncool or that she might be mad at me. I was just so shocked she’d take something! I was totally not cool. And I’m okay with that, I think.

I was also particularly interested in/upset about Joel’s mother changing their maid’s name because she couldn’t pronounce it. I was actually aghast and gasped out loud. And then when she did it to Tony’s mother! I would’ve been even more outraged than Tony was if someone had done that to my mother and especially to have her accept it so readily in the name of fitting in. I know that lots of versions of this have happened and likely continue to happen. I know that changing a servant’s name is an act of subjugating and othering them, alienating them from their identity and self. I know all of this historically and logically, but damn does fiction bring stuff home. Thanks, Judy. Bless.

The Kirkus review on the back of the book talks about Tony’s problems not being “magically resolved” but I was sort of aching for that by the end. Tony goes to therapy! And starts to learn to deal with his anxiety and stress, which was great and also kind of refreshing! Joel gets busted for stealing, which is also great. But the one problem I wanted to see a happy ending to was Tony’s grandmother. I was so angry at Mrs. Miglione for not standing up to Maxine and getting her mother back in the kitchen where she was happy. Infuriating to my bones! But Kirkus isn’t wrong, it’s not a bad thing that some of Tony’s issues go unresolved. That’s what life is like, right? Even when it’s frustrating as hell.

I might not have had this one as a kid, but thanks for it anyway, Judy.

– Ash