Sunday, August 25, 2013

Book Review: Just As Long As We're Together by Judy Blume (1986)

I don’t remember many first lines of books that I’ve read, but somehow I’ve never been able to forget “Stephanie is into hunks,” which is the first sentence of Judy Blume’s 1986 middle grade novel Just As Long As We’re Together. I’ve also never been able to forget that the “hunk” who hangs above Stephanie’s bed is a young Richard Gere, whom Stephanie has named Benjamin Moore after the paint brand. Throw in a supposed talking dog, an exercise video involving “gluts” and a ninth grader nicknamed Jeremy Dragon, and that is basically the complete picture of what I remember about this book from childhood.

Just As Long As We’re Together is the story of Stephanie Hirsch, a seventh grader, who has two best friends. Rachel has been her best friend pretty much all her life, and Alison is new in town. As their seventh grade year unfolds, Stephanie and her friends endure the usual growing pains, including questions over whether someone can have more than one best friend. Stephanie herself faces issues surrounding her weight, her period, her parents’ troubled marriage, her brother’s nightmares about nuclear war, and of course, boys.

I was a little nervous that this book wouldn’t hold up for me as an adult, but it turns out I had nothing to worry about. From that silly first line, I was hooked on Stephanie’s voice all over again, and I found myself eagerly zipping through each chapter. I was surprised by how little plot there really is, but not at all surprised that a character-driven story about friendship would be the one I would choose as a favorite. I like that the story drifts from episode to episode, slowly exploring every facet of Stephanie’s life. I like that things unfold organically, and that there doesn’t seem to be any real rush to finish the story or make an important point. Judy Blume has a talent for making the everyday seem interesting and for giving girls positive fictional role models for navigating early adolescence. I could relate completely to Stephanie, and to most of her experiences, and the fun of reading the book was really just getting to spend time with a character I really liked. It was like checking back in with an old friend after twenty years and finding she hasn’t changed a bit.

Just As Long As We’re Together is one of the tamer Blume novels, and I think it’s appropriate for girls as young as eight or nine. There is also a sequel, Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson, and both books have been combined into one volume entitled BFF, which has a much more updated cover than my old paperback edition. Despite some of the outdated references, I think the issues explored in this book are still relevant to today’s tween audience, and Blume can be trusted to handle them honestly and authentically.

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