Judy Blume “Feels Good” Celebrating “Are You There God?” – and Teaching “Puberty Is a Good Thing”
Image Source: Getty / Victoria Sirakova
It’s a great time to be Judy Blume. In April, the onscreen adaptation of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” made its way to cinemas, 53 years after the seminal YA novel was first released in 1970. In the film, directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, Abby Ryder Fortson plays Margaret with Rachel McAdams as her creative mom, Barbara. That same month, Amazon Prime Video also released a documentary about Blume, titled “Judy Blume Forever.” For someone who has spent much of the past few decades out of the spotlight, has all the renewed attention been jarring?
“I love this movie so much. It’s my heart. It’s everything,” Blume tells POPSUGAR of “Are You There God?” But when it comes to the documentary, it’s a little more complicated. “It’s a very weird thing and a different thing,” she says. “I feel good celebrating ‘Margaret.’ I feel strange celebrating myself. But I’m very pleased with that documentary.” She’s particularly glad that the documentary goes into the censorship her books faced in the ’80s – the type of ban that is, sadly, becoming increasingly commonplace in America – and that it spotlighted some of the letters she received from kids over the years. She even met some of those children as adults.
Speaking on book banning, she says, “It never occurred to me that any of this would happen again. This is kids, right? Puberty is a good thing. It’s going to happen to your kids, whether you like it or not, moms, so you better get ready.” The “best thing” parents can do for their children is to be able to talk about the challenges of growing up, not hide them. And Blume’s books have always been honest when it comes to topics like sex, puberty, love, death, and other “adult” topics kids inevitably face.
Blume has also been to some recent events where she’s run into celebrity fans, but she’s a little shy about discussing them. “Are You There God?” director Fremon Craig is not. “Judy was a complete rock star,” she tells POPSUGAR of a gala they attended together. “There were a million celebrities in that room, and they all wanted to talk to Judy.” Blume also cofounded a nonprofit bookstore in Key West, FL, and she says a lot of women come into the store and cry when they meet her. She explains, “It’s because I take them back to their childhoods. They look at me, they remember. And that’s all very sweet.”
Fremon Craig, who also wrote the “Are You There God?” adaptation, says she read her first Blume book when she was 11, then quickly “inhaled” the rest. This one was her favorite, though. “I felt so close to Margaret, I related to her so much,” she says. “I was also a late bloomer. So I was praying to God for boobs.”
Years later, after the release of her first film, 2016’s “Edge of Seventeen,” she was thinking about what she wanted to make next and exploring which authors she connected with the most. Her mind went right to Blume. “I started to reread her work, and when I got to ‘Are You There? God, It’s Me, Margaret’ . . . I was sobbing like a baby,” Fremon Craig explains. She soon reached out to Blume to see if she could get the rights.
Blume told Fremon Craig and the producers that she thought the movie would only resonate with the “nostalgia crowd.” “It’s the people who grew up with this book who are going to really want to see it,” she explains. But she’s been pleasantly surprised – and happy to be wrong. A lot of people who read the book as preteens themselves have brought their young kids to screenings, and it’s resonated with them, too. “One girl came to this screening in Key West in a little pleated skirt, the skirt that Margaret is wearing in the [movie] poster, and she made it herself,” Blume shares.
Image Source: Everett Collection
Blume also praises Fremon Craig for the way she increased the role of Margaret’s mother in the film. “In the book, everything is from the point of view of a 12-year-old girl,” Blume explains. “She doesn’t know really who her mother is or what her mother is thinking, and Kelly gave her life. I love that part of it.” Fremon Craig gives further credit to McAdams’s performance. “She just inhabits that so well and just conveys all the facets of being a mom, because it’s complicated.” Blume adds that the movie’s Barbara is the “mother I want to be when I come back in another life.”
This POPSUGAR author did have one small quibble with the film when I watched it. When first reading the book in 2000 after finding it in Mrs. Mangano’s third-grade classroom library, I was scarred by the description of ’70s-era sanitary napkins, which involved wearing a belt and then pinning the pad between them. This detail did not make it to the film. Blume and Fremon Craig say it’s because there were actually two versions of the book.
The earliest copies featured the pads and belts. Blume says she remembers when sanitary napkins changed to the sticky pads most people are familiar with today soon after “Are You There God?” was published. “It was my British publisher who said, ‘How do you feel about changing that [in the book]?'” Blume remembers. She agreed. “I don’t change my books. I don’t believe in updating them. But I think that is important, because that was something that was taking kids out of the story. They were so curious about [the pads and belts], they forgot they were in a story.” Fremon Craig said she always grew up with the updated version, so she didn’t even know about the period belts until the author told her about it during a production meeting.
“Now we have out in the world these two groups, and they don’t agree with each other,” Blume says. People who read the older copy (myself included) want the belts to remain. The other group is happy the change was made. Blume is very much in the second camp. “I don’t have any good feelings about period belts,” she says.
“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” is in theaters now. “Judy Blume Forever” is streaming now on Prime Video.
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