Judy Blume should have prepared me for this

“I lived in New York for eleven and a half years and I don’t think anybody ever asked me about my religion. I never even thought about it. Now, all of a sudden, it was the big thing in my life.”   – Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret.

The queen of children novels, Judy Blume, encompasses a rare ability to write classic books for years to come. As teens, we had expectations of her to teach us the truth about things that no one else would, and this revealed an obvious reliance never before presented to other authors; a social responsibility Blume clearly took seriously. Many of you have read her gripping, almost addictive and quite memorable stories as a child, myself included.blume31n-1-web Tales of divorce, losing a parent, snooping neighbours and first bras aided young children to believe that yes, maybe there was an adult out there who understood all our problems. Puberty and its dark shadows on a young child’s life was nowhere near fun, yet Blume’s many individual and intriguing characters, proved that her characters lived through what we lived through. They shared our joys and pain, and her stories proved to be a revelation in the eyes of the youth. Her gift of making almost depressing topics, engaging to a young reader, prompted her excellent ability to tackle themes of religion, American politics and racial tension as well as other topics like socialising, sibling rivalry and puppy love. Judy began her career in the in 1966, whereby after graduating from New York University, she received a B.A in education. She began with several picture books for young children in the early days and in 1972 found her big break when “Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing” (1972) was published. Initially this story was intended to be called “Peter, Fudge and Dribble” and had a different plot to the final story, but as time went on Blume decided to base Fudge on her own child and the New York City lifestyle of her memories of a close friend’s family life.

“Sometimes life in the Hatcher household is enough to make twelve-year-old Peter think about running away. His worst problem is still his younger brother, Fudge.”

CaptureIn 1980 one of the most popular and my personal favourite Judy Blume book “Superfudge” was published. I can remember purchasing it from a book shop when I was in Year 4 in primary school. My teacher had picked it out for me and I loved that the cover was bright orange with three intriguing characters on the front; two boys and a baby girl.  Surprisingly Blume claimed “I remember exactly where I was when the idea finally came to me—in the shower, covered with soap and shampoo. And the idea seemed so simple I couldn’t believe it had taken seven years. I would give the Hatchers a new baby.” Baby Tootsie the new member of the family causes friction when Peter, the oldest son, is unhappy that a new edition to the family will arrive soon and that they’re all moving home to compensate for his parent’s dream careers. Blume has many other books, spin off of the Hatcher family and they’re friends. These include “Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great” (1972), “Fudge-a-mania”(1990) and “Double Fudge” (2002).

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Iggie’s House (1970)

Blume has also published a string of highly influential, if not controversial novels, which are very much cherished by fans still today. Iggie’s House (1970) was different to the Superfudge series in that it was not too focused on young children, rather was classified as a young adult novel. It deals with the topic of racism in the late 1960’s where Blume herself commented that “the late sixties was a turbulent time in America. Racial tensions were high, especially following the assassination of Martin Luther King. The ongoing fight for racial equality affected all of us, one way or another.”  The main character Winnie’s fascination with the new black family next door, allows her to quickly become friends with them. However, her own family’s disapproval of her new friends is disheartening as the story takes a turn for the worst. Blubber (1974) deals with bullying in school, a common and relatable topic, whereas the next novel by Blume called “Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself” (1977) was an autobiographical novel whereby Blume concealed herself in this character wearing a colourful  dress, reliving her past as a Jew throughout the war.

“Suppose there aren’t any more A + days once you get to be twelve? Wouldn’t that be something! To spend the rest of your life looking for an A + day and not finding it.” – It’s Not the End of the World (1972)

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“It’s Not the End of the World” (1972) chronicled a marriage falling apart at the seams whilst the story is told from the point of view of a young girl named Karen. Her parents constant fighting leads her to lose faith in love and marriage, as does her hope for her favourite teacher’s marriage lasting, instead believing it has made her evil. Her parent’s quick decision toward divorce, causes her to do anything in her power to make them stay together, even if that means pretending to be ill.

The controversial topic of religion is tackled in “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” (1970)  and follows a young girls search for a religion in the confusion of her Jewish/Christian family. She often talks to God, and begins her prayers with ‘‘are you there God?”  Her pre-teen concerns are a main factor of this novel, however throughout there remains a fierce confusion between two faiths, which causes conflict in Margaret’s family, making her angry at times. This I believe to be a poignant novel in Blume’s career, due to its popularity, but also its subject matter.

”Who says March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb? That’s a lot of bull. All it’s done this March is rain. I’m sick of it.” –Then Again, Maybe I Won’t (1971)

then“Then Again, Maybe I Won’t” (1971) was a different spin on earlier Blume novels, because the point of view changed. It was the adolescent voice and life of a teenage boy. Blume’s success from “Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret” was the catalyst for this pleasant surprise.  Tony and his family move to a new town due to his father’s promotion, and his family’s abrupt changes being to annoy Tony. He keeps all his emotions inside, causing him emotional anguish and pain. The false pretence of people in his life, he views as fake, and so he searches for reality through his binoculars, into his neighbour’s bedroom window, where he soon becomes known as a peeping tom.

“When Deenie sees the brace for the first time, she wants to scream, Forget it…I’m never going to wear that thing! But the words won’t come out. And beautiful Deenie, who everyone says should be a model, is stuck wearing a brace from her neck to her hips.” – Deenie (1973)

Deenie (1973) deals with a young girl of the name Wilmadeene, nickname Deenie who suffers with Scoliosis but also has big dreams of becoming a model. When the doctor diagnoses her with Scoliosis and she has to wear a brace for her condition, the four year wait to take it off, begins to take a toll on her. Her decision to ditch modelling and become a Orthopaedist is not taken lightly by her pushy mother.

”Now, besides being best friends we’ll also be neighbours. And moving just a few blocks away really isn’t like moving at all. I think the only reason we moved is that our house needed a new roof and Mom and Dad just about passed out when they learned what it would cost.” – Just as long as we’re together (1987)

justMy personal favourite “Just As Long As We’re Together” (1987) deals with the teenage melodramatic reaction of a teenage girl who is moving home, dealing with new friends, compulsive liars, a new school,  and boys. Stephanie Hirsch is living with her family in a new home in Palfrey’s Pond, Connecticut and deals with an array of ups and downs with her two best friends, Rachel and new girl Alison. On a more serious note, this novel highlights the fears children have about their families and their future well-being. Divorce plays a large role here, as well as the strength of friendship and trust. In a spin off story, ”Here’s to you Rachel Robinson” (1993), best friend Rachel Robinson is a straight-A student. She practices the flute 45 minutes a day and strives for perfection in everything she does. But she grinds her teeth at night and dreads dinnertime, now that her troublemaking older brother, Charles, has been thrown out of boarding school and is now back home, acting up to get attention as usual. Her resentment for him is clear, and his attempt at breaking the family apart is obvious too. Counselling and a trip to Ellis Island, New York may put the family back together, or it may tear them apart. heres

Other popular Judy Blume novels include “Tiger Eyes” (1981), “Forever” (1975), and many more young adult novels dealing with similar themes. Blume’s simple yet fascinating writing style encapsulates even adults today who have read her novels in the past.  “Letters to Judy. What your kids Wish They Could Tell You” (1986) revealed secrets and opinions from Blume’s readers, in an attempt for parents to walk in their children’s shoes. It contained thousands of letters sent by fans, pouring their hearts out to their favourite author revealing her very profound effect on many lives.

 

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The Grownup (2014) Gillian Flynn : Book Review “It’s Gone Girl too quickly.”

The Grownup (2014) is an epic short story in the form of a classic Gillian Flynn mystery, with a twist. The story was first found and read in George R R Martins anthology Rogues, and in it was titled “What do you do?” It’s funny, and slightly naughty at the start, an odd blend of hysteria running through the whole thing, but isn’t that what Flynn does? She makes you laugh while you’re scared and uncomfortable. Laugh in a way that scares you, as in, why the hell am I laughing? Dark is an understatement here as is usual with Flynn’s work like, “Gone Girl” (2012) , “Dark Places”(2009) and “Sharp Objects” (2006).

img_7993The narrator is a con artist, unreliable and struggling to survive financially. She reads auras at a place called Spiritual Palms where she does more than her job description projects. She deals heavily in doing favours for married men and feels no remorse. Rich, housewife Susan Burke walks in one day, catching her attention with talks of a haunted house that she immediately needs spiritual help for. To make her green, the unnamed narrator decides to up her fake spiritual healing antics and equipped with herbs, she visits Susan’s grand Victorian home, only to realise that the job is bigger than fake clairvoyance. It’s much bigger than she thought.

“But she did invite me to her house, and women like that don’t invite over women like me unless they want something.”

This novella is a classic take on the haunted house, ghost story and I guarantee it will creep you out before it ends quickly. Flynn has now sold the rights to Universal for a “high six figures” and it will be produced by Michael De Luca, with a script adaptation by Natalie Krinsky.

Studying Brent born Zadie Smith at Postgraduate Level

It was the first summer lecture on the Creative Writing MA at Birkbeck University 2017. We were discussing how a writer finds and defines their voice and their territory. The set reading was Zadie Smith’s 2007 essay, ‘Fail Better’. The essay eloquently discussed failing honourably in literature and the responsibility of a writer. It seemed to resonate deeply with the entire lecture hall. It was compelling and utterly honest, sending me into a frenzy. I wanted to know who Zadie Smith was. zadie

Turns out Zadie was born in Brent and her first novel White Teeth (1999) was set in Willesden. Smith nurses an intricate kaleidoscope view of London, whereby she embraces and celebrates London’s melting pot of cultures, embodying the city as a ‘state of mind.’ After reading Zadie’s books, one may observe Smith’s storytelling gives special attention to areas reflective of her humble beginning, places that ring the north circular like Wembley, Neasden, Kilburn, Harlesden and her beloved Willesden. Zadie still lives in Brent for half the year and resides in New York for the other. Zadie is often praised for her realism in her writing, much of that stemming from her use of slang or of her realistic portrayal of London through mirroring the streets of Brent. She is clear in her understanding of the needs of her local community, and the characters dwelling through these parts and their potential. Multiculturalism is a solid theme throughout her work, alongside her character as a writer who clearly holds Brent dear.zadie novel

Pop culture podcast SRSLY by the New Statesman discussed the television adaptation of her popular novel NW. The reworking of the 2012 novel was reviewed in link to social mobility, a theme ever present in Brent. The podcast discussed Zadie’s relatability to her characters struggles of ‘getting out’ of social housing, an ideology she to this day feels associated with, but also described as blurred. As an accomplished writer, Zadie may have ‘escaped’ her humble beginnings, yet currently lives in America in what she describes as a place that looks, and feels like a tower block. On the contrary, it lacks the community she once had. The television adaptation was beautifully shot in Kilburn, reflecting the themes of change and movement effectively.

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Listen to SRSLY here:

Zadie’s contribution to literature and Brent’s legacy have come hand in hand throughout her career. She steadily employs her fame to shine light on the potential of the area. Her adoration of Kilburn high road is reflected in NW, as well as through her voluntary contributions to the borough. In 2016, Zadie campaigned for children centres in Kilburn, Granville and Carlton. To support the cause, she read extracts from an essay concerning the importance of local services.

zadie 2Zadie discussed the ‘Brent Youth Orchestra’ in her 2011 short story ‘Sweet Charity’ for the New Yorker and reminisces on the Willesden Green bookshop which she strongly believes shaped her writing in The Guardian. She’s also spoke candidly defending Brent Libraries on how they were essential to her growth as a writer and places weight on Willesden libraries importance to her acceptance into the pearly gates of Cambridge University.

Smith is a force to be reckoned with amongst mainstream writers and additionally is a great candidate to reflect the borough of Brent in the mayor Sadiq Khan’s London borough of culture 2020 bid.

#mylocalculture #backbrentsbid