For each issue of Literary Mama, Literary Reflections shares a writing prompt, inviting our readers to respond. Our editors provide feedback on the responses we receive, and we post our favorites on the blog. This month’s writing prompt is inspired by Kendra Stanton Lee’s Are You There, Judy? It’s Me, Kendra.
Blubber. Deenie. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. These titles, authored by Judy Blume, garnered long waiting lists at local libraries during the final decades of the twentieth century, when there was a dearth of literature addressing adolescent worries and woes. Then there’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, arguably Blume’s definitive work, chronicling the phase during which the title character gets her first period. For many women who came of age in this era, Are You There God? served as a manual of sorts, one that provided a glimpse into the mystery that was menstruation.
The same was true for Kendra Stanton Lee, who discusses the book’s impact in her Literary Reflections essay, “Are You There, Judy? It’s Me, Kendra.” In the piece, Lee examines how integral Are You There God? was as a source of information for her and peers who sought to understand their own body’s workings. She recalls how she and two friends immersed themselves in the world of the book, sharing the school library’s one shopworn copy. She remembers referring back to it time and again, as one might do with an encyclopedia, in an effort to make sense of what they had heard was to come, since no one had explained it to them in plain, accessible language.
“The lack of intel I had in middle school about my changing body led me to consult Are You There, God?” Lee says. “I would read Blume’s iconic novel intermittently when our class had study halls in the library.” The pages of TEEN and Seventeen magazines provided supplemental information. Lee expresses how these sources served a vital need, assuaging her curiosity and the need for information left unsatisfied by those who did venture to discuss it. Her mother spoke in clipped, spare tones about puberty, and in college, a retired police officer focused primarily on the dangers of being a young woman and the possibilities for sexual victimization.
At one point, Blume’s books were the subject of controversy, even banned by some. Lee addresses this, noting that in response, “Blume has said that she saw censorship not just as the parental reflex of control around what children were reading, but as a means of protecting themselves from being questioned.” Lee relates to this, surmising,
I think Blume’s critique of censorship addresses both approaches to sex education I received. There was the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell approach of my own parents. And then there was the Scared Straight model offered by the retired police officer in high school. One was negligent. The other was aggressive. Neither presented sexuality as wonderful, and neither presented sex as something to be entered into carefully and with agency by both parties.
At the beginning of the essay, Lee makes note of her ultra-prepared daughter, who had the foresight to pack a period emergency kit for their beach vacation, just in case. She compares her daughter’s level of maturity to her own lack of knowledge and general clumsiness surrounding menstruation in her youth, and realizes that by sharing resources and making herself available for conversation, she has succeeded in shifting the dynamic, therefore breaking the cycle of ignorance. Lee concludes: “I have learned that sex education is not a trickle-down teaching but one exchanged in all directions, among all generations. It is not, as the retired police officer would have us believe, something to be feared, but something to be explored and questioned together, perhaps even with a higher power.”
Is there a piece of literature or body of work that you relied on in your youth to learn about or explore a topic that was covered insufficiently at home or school? Did an author’s work expose you to subject matter, whether personal or societal, that increased your awareness and left an impact? How does your past experience differ from the way in which you’ve chosen to educate your own children about that particular topic?
Read the essay written by Lee and submit a 500-word response to this writing prompt by February 28, 2021, for feedback from our editors. Email it to LMreflections (at) literarymama (dot) com and note “February Prompt” in your subject line. Please do not attach the essay; rather, paste the response in the body of the email.