Bradbury Press, 1977
Three years ago, I met Judy Blume, the patron saint of Young Adult literature. She was speaking at the Texas Library Association's annual conference in Houston and my friend Becca and I left Austin at an ungodly hour one morning to make it down in time for her signing session.
When I was working in a public library I generally attended three conferences a year. There were always a good number of authors in attendance and never a shortage of opportunities to have books signed. I never bothered having books signed; you see, I'm not really a collector of books. I tend to only keep them as long as it takes me to read them, and then I send them back out in the universe. So standing in line to have a book signed that I didn't intend to keep forever seemed a little pointless.
But Judy was different.
I remember finding her books on the musty shelves of the public library in my small town. I had no idea of her significance, or that her books were often challenged, when I was in elementary and middle school. I just knew that I liked her books. They were different. They were honest and real in a way I appreciate even more now having studied children's literature.
While Just As Long As We're Together and its companion Here's to You Rachel Robinson were the Blume books I read and reread, I do believe Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself was the first of her books that I discovered.
And in effort to bring things full circle (having studied library science in large part because of the time I spent in the public library growing up), that was the book I brought with me to have signed.
I stood in line for maybe an hour or so, and when I approached the table, book in hand, Judy Blume sighed. "Oh, it's Sally!" she said. I could tell that this book, which she hadn't yet been asked to sign that day, meant a lot to her. Maybe more than the others.
Starring is Blume's most autobiographical work. Taking place just after the end of World War II, the book centers around 10-year-old Sally and her family's relocation from New Jersey to Miami Beach. Her brother Douglas has been ill, and Florida is the perfect escape from a cold, wet winter in the Northeast. Although her mother swears that Miami Beach will be a wonderful adventure, Sally isn't too happy about having to leave her beloved father, whom she calls Doey bird, behind.
Sally settles into an apartment with her mother, brother and maternal grandmother. She starts school and makes friends, but none of that is as interesting as her discovery that Hitler is actually alive and well and living in her apartment building.
While Sally grapples with whether or not to alert the local police to her findings, she makes up fanciful stories (always starring herself, natch), daydreams about boys in her class, and worries about her father.
Starring is definitely more character-driven than plot-driven. For the right reader (most likely a young girl prone to daydreaming), there is a lot here, particularly for fans of historical fiction.
Reviewed from personal copy.