I’m not shy in discussing my millennial identity. Coming of age in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Judy Blume was always a preeminent author. Her books dominated reading lists in many elementary schools, and mine was no different. However, while I remember reading books like Freckle Juice, I knew next to nothing about Blume as a human. 2023 gives us a Judy Blume renaissance, starting with the documentary Judy Blume Forever.  

Judy Blume Forever comes from directors Leah Wolchok and Davina Pardo and examines Blume as one of the most remembered figures for school children of a certain age. Chances are, most of our Gen-X and Millennial readers recognize Judy Blume. Even if you can’t always remember the books (it’s been a while for some of us), you remember the name. We read her work. We’ve read most of them. 

The documentary proves a surprisingly timely examination of Blume’s career. The author rose from life as a housewife in the early 1960s to publish her first book in 1969. She quickly became a legend in her own time while battling censorship boards in the 1980s, only to come out living her best life at the age of 85. Blume is joined in interviews by Molly Ringwald, Lena Dunham, Samantha Bee and others.  

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Whether you remember her books or not, the story Wolchok and Pardo bring to the screen is warm-hearted and inspirational. Blume is life goals personified. We watch her find her purpose, rise above her challenges, and through all the struggles, remain confident yet humble. Judy Blume, it seems, is a class act. 

The documentary is structured with a sharp eye for history, beginning with the author’s post-World War II New Jersey childhood. It keeps its primary focus on her books as the timeline progresses to modern day. 

What leaps out — particularly to this historian– is the film’s beautiful and decidedly original analysis examining the middle of the 20th century. The 1950s, in particular, is a decade defined by a certain image. This period is often depicted through the lens of the era’s television. We see it as a time of innocence and purity. Just look at Leave it to Beaver.

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Judy Blume Forever hones in on a critical point when analyzing this time, and it does shape Blume’s early literary output. Calling the 1950s an innocent time is an over-simplification. Instead, as the film points out, the era was about pretending. People pretended to have things “figured out.” Teenagers played at being grown-up. The goal was to be “okay,” even if you weren’t underneath.

This is at the root of Blume’s literary career. She speaks poignantly about being a teen during this era and being aware of everything society didn’t speak of. Youngsters weren’t naive. They knew about bras, periods and sexuality. However, society at that time didn’t have the language to talk about these subjects, and many children were left floating on an island by themselves. Blume spoke about these issues and showed kids they weren’t alone. 

However, the documentary’s most poignant moments come from the children who corresponded with Blume over her career. The author received an untold number of letters from children who often wrote her at their most vulnerable. Judy Blume, it seems, was the only person they felt understood them. She acknowledged the validity of our feelings and reminded many that we were going to be okay. 

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At the same time, though, Judy Blume Forever is painfully timely. As the film reaches the 1980s and a discussion of censorship in the face of Ronald Regan’s election, the decade suddenly doesn’t seem so far away. Blume’s books and their frank discussions of sensitive subjects have often landed themselves on banned book lists. Almost 40 years later, we’ve come full circle as many of the same views are returning to prevalence. Our children deserve better. Books are never a bad thing. 

Ultimately, the film only lags a bit into the third act. As mentioned, the documentary utilizes a sharp historical structure. However, as Blume’s career slows down and her focus shifts from the professional to the personal, the pace slows. Throughout all of this, though, Blume remains likable, effervescent and a complete joy to watch. 

As the final credits rolled, I admit I cried multiple times throughout Judy Blume Forever. This is a movie with a huge heart. Like Won’t You Be My Neighbor in 2019, Judy Blume Forever taps into not only a powerful nostalgia but a beautiful sense of humanity. Readers, those with a fondness for Judy Blume, or even those who just love documentaries, should find a lot to love here. 

Judy Blume Forevers debuts on Prime Video beginning April 21, 2023. 

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Kimberly Pierce
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