My favorite Young Adult novels when I was a young reader were the ones that I now think of as “my summer of death and kissing” novels. Sound morbid? It’s not, really. It’s about a certain kind of melancholy grandeur. The way I see it is: If art, like life, boils down to sex, death and family, then the best YA novels are the ones that describe initiation into the complexities of all three.
One of my most dog-eared in that category was Madeline L’Engle’s “A Ring of Endless Light,” where our heroine learns about death, dolphins and boys, and the other was Judy Blume’s “Tiger Eyes,” where our heroine encounters death, canyons and boys. This latter novel, my favorite by Blume, has now been made into a feature film by Blume’s son Larry — remarkably, the first feature adaptation of a Blume novel — with his famous mom’s collaboration on the screenplay. It arrives in theaters and on-demand TV on June 7.
“Tiger Eyes,” which I’ve probably read upwards of six or seven times, is told from the perspective of Davey, a teenager in Atlantic City, who must face life without her father after he is murdered tending his 7-Eleven store and her family relocates to Los Alamos. Davey is aided in her grieving process by Wolf, an older boy she meets in a canyon (only this week did a friend of mine point out the Freudian implications of the canyon) who is also losing his father to illness.
I’m often that person who gives books to children as gifts. They probably groan when they open them, but I’m usually out of earshot by then. As a kid, I was thrilled when a relative made a tasteful selection for me. There are a few more nights left of Hanukkah, so if you’re in need of a gift for a girl with at least a passing interest in Jewish culture — or just a gift for no particular occasion at all — here are eight suggestions culled from a 1980s girlhood spent devouring the local public library. All of them were written by Jewish women and some of them do, inevitably, deal with complex and painful themes, but none feature characters who send text messages. Did I leave out your favorite? Add to the list in the comments section below.
1) “Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself”
Judy Blume, ages 9 and up
“Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret” gets all the girly attention — and it, too, carries a Jewish theme — but “Freedman” is Blume’s Jewish masterpiece. Picture a ten-year-old New Jersey girl in 1947, whisked to Miami with her family (including her Yiddish-speaking and avid Forward reading Bubbe) so her brother can recuperate from Nephritis. She imagines her next-door neighbor to be Adolf Hitler in disguise — a side-effect of having a severely over-protective and paranoid mother. Sally is clever, yearns for glamour, and is always eavesdropping on the grownups. I may have signed letters I sent from summer camp in 1993 with the valediction “Love, and other indoor sports,” as cribbed from Sally’s own correspondence, even though I had no idea what that meant.
Over at Tablet, food writer Mimi Sheraton offers a meditation on the exalted, lemony etrog.
On the same Web site, Manhattan writer C.A. Blomquist writes of beginning to study to convert to Judaism at age 52, and has an attendant podcast about taking the final plunge.
In this Jewcy post about turning 30 on Yom Kippur, blogger Jessica Pauline muses about the experience of celebrating a birthday on a fast day, and the realization that she is, actually, becoming an adult.
On Material Maidel, MM writes about a new trend in dating in the frum world – the pre-date date.
And over on Double X, fave author of tween girls Judy Blume says that she was the Margaret in “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.” She tells the feminist blog: “I was Margaret—talking to God, making bargains—asking for my period and to help me be normal. God was my confidant.”