The Sisterhood of the Traveling Margaret

The movie is not out for over three months, and women my age, many no longer in need of Margaret’s Pink Softies, are already going crazy. We are watching the trailer (OMG LOOK AT THE FONT!) We are fawning over Judy Blume. (Home with a mostly boring case of COVID this week, I caught part of the interview with her on the Today Show, and felt my heart growing flowers.) We are celebrating with our daughters, and swapping stories about the level of importance of the book in our lives. We are planning our watch parties. (A friend who lives across the county has suggested that perhaps she could fly in to see it with me. Another across-the-country-friend stated that at the very least, we should plan to watch it on the same day. One of my adult daughters who IS coming across the country and will be here by the time the movie comes out has commented that of course we will see it together.) We are chanting, “We must, we must, we must increase our bust!” at each other. And all of that has only been this week. The excitement will surely ramp up.

But this post is not actually about Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, or all of Judy Blume’s books that taught me and so many others about ourselves. It is about the importance of having books that bind us together. Books that make us a Sisterhood.

For me, and for so many of my grew-up-in-the-’70s female friends, those books were Judy’s. Well — white female friends. White straight female friends who grew up in the suburbs. White straight female friends who grew up in the suburbs with solid nuclear families and enough money to buy what they needed and at least some of what they wanted. (Of course, now I deeply want to know what Sisterhood books bound girls who don’t meet that description. So that learning is next for me, I hope.) I’m told that ’80s girls also called Judy’s books their own. The books made us feel normal and seen and connected, and depending on when we read them, they gave us a peek at what was coming next. (Ok, a precocious reader with an older sister, I read Margaret when I was in second grade, so THAT was eye-popping! Also, who amongst us DIDN’T read Forever before we were ready? And what about Wifey? Now there’s an education…)

I also need to mention Norma Klein’s books here. If you were a teenage reader in the ’80s, did you read those books? They did not have the cultural importance that Judy Blume’s books have had for generations, but they certainly meant a lot to me. They made me feel older and like maybe I knew a little somethin’-somethin’ when I read them.

For my daughters who are in their mid and late 20s, that connection book seems to have been The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Ann Brashares), although they, too, passed around Margaret. After all, Judy Blume’s books were of the ’70s, but the themes transcend time. Margaret taught about puberty and liking boys and questioning spirituality and friendship and where/how-do-you-fit? Sisterhood was skewed older, and taught about falling in love, and regrouped families, and death, and the regret of not-in-love sex, and friendship, and wondering who you are. What binds these books together, and binds them to the girls who read them, and then binds those girls together? They both explore friendship and normalize the ideas of change and questioning yourself. I’ve also been reminded of The Care and Keeping of You, an American Girl classic that talked directly to girls about what was happening to them, no punches pulled. But, in a texting string with my daughters and my similarly-aged niece, I’m getting the sense that none of those books had quite the heightened importance and universality that Margaret and Deenie had to my friends and me. Why is that? Perhaps for girls who went through adolescence in the 2000’s and beyond, there were simply so many ways to learn about and talk about growing up. But for us, well, it was Just Judy.

Sisterhood books, the books that bind girls together, women together, are IMPORTANT. They give us common language and giggly predictions. I am now wondering how closeted trans girls feel. Do they read the books and want desperately to discuss them but can’t? And I am wondering how closeted trans boys feel. Do they avoid the books and discussions around them? So much to wonder.

And this all brings me to wanting to know about the Sisterhood books that came before Margaret and those that have come after Sisterhood. What was the book for my mother and her friends? My mom has Parkinson’s, and she has been slowly receding for years. Her receptive language is now very difficult to judge, and her expressive language is limited to a few words per visit or phone call. So, I don’t think I can get this information from her, but I want to know. This is the first time I’m writing about Mom, and I can only press on the bruise a very tiny bit. But I’ll say this: Sisterhood is a peer-thing, but it is also a mother-daughter thing. Linguistically, that does not makes sense, but if you are a daughter or a mother with daughters and you have or have had a loving mother/daughter connection past childhood, then you know what I mean. I read this blogpost recently, and it brought me to tears. If you don’t feel like going to the post, here’s how it starts:

On the day we got new carpet installed, my mom messaged me and said, “Big day for you!” This is because moms care about the things no one else cares about. Not about things like brushing your teeth and whether you’ve had a vegetable lately, although moms do generally care about those things. But about the minutiae of daily life. The little details that make up the big picture. The things that, if you told most anyone else about them, they’d think, “And this is supposed to interest me how?”—but that your mom follows like it’s a page turner and she’s hanging on every word.

When you can no longer connect with your mom about the minutiae of daily life, you look for others in your Sisterhood with whom to share those things. I send my thanks out to my friends who have filled that role (you know who you are!) and to my own daughters who listen to my minutiae. It is one of my deepest honors to listen to theirs.

I indulged in a bit of a segue because, well, it seems that I wanted to write about my mom just a little bit. And of course, this is all about connection. So, Sisterhood, let’s connect about the books that connect us. Whether we know each other or we don’t, I’d love for you to add in comments about the books that meet the Sisterhood definition. When did you grow up, HOW did you grow up (would be so glad to hear from folks whose life experiences don’t mimic mine and Margaret’s), and what books helped you to know who you are? What have been your Sisterhood books?

2 thoughts on “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Margaret

  1. Dearest Lynn, What wonderful memories you have unearthed! You are such a good writer….and I can testify that you are an amazing daughter, sister, mother and friend. And I imagine that Larry would not want me to have omitted,”wife” from that list. Truth be told, I was not much of a reader growing up. My girlfriends and I did not have the kind of books you are writing about. But along with the”Margaret” book, I wonder if “Free to Be..You and Me” had an impact on you and your friends. It also came out in the early 70’s. As a young mother of 3 while in my 20s, I think I was as influenced by some of the same books you and B were. Speaking of books, as a point of interest, the book that totally influenced my connection to Judaism was Michener’s book “The Source” which I read in college. At my age, memory is a bit hazy on things, but that book is still memorable. Love you (and your mom) and love to hear any minutiae anytime!

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    1. Sharon, thank you so much for your very kind and insightful comments. Absolutely, Free to Be makes the list! The Source is one of my husband’s favorites, too!

      So glad to connect around wonderful books.

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