With books like "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret," Judy Blume has captured the feelings of adolescence again and again.
Her novel "Summer Sisters," which is Jenna Bush Hager's August Read With Jenna pick, details the transition out of childhood just as well. In the book, 12-year-old Victoria Leonard's world opens up because Caitlin Somers chooses her to be her best friend.
As a result, she's able to escape her stifling life in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a few months every summer drawn into Caitlin's family on Martha's Vineyard. As they grow up, they remain intertwined — one could argue too intertwined.
Speaking to TODAY.com, Blume says she "couldn't be happier" the 25-year-old novel was chosen to be a Read With Jenna pick. "I was thrilled to learn that Jenna read the book every summer, knows the story and characters so well and is bringing it to a wider audience,” Blume tells TODAY.com.
She says readers are in for an "intimate" read with a love story at its core. "There’s been a lot of discussion about that. Is it Vix and Bru, Caitlin and Bru, Caitlin and Vix? All three? There’s no right answer to these questions. Each reader comes away with their own ideas," Blume tells TODAY.com.
Below, Blume answers questions about "Summer Sisters," along with her wide-reaching writing career and beyond, via email.
Judy Blume answers questions about 'Summer Sisters'
TODAY.com: What do you think still resonates most about “Summer Sisters” 25 years later?
Judy Blume: The friendship between Caitlin and Vix. Maybe I should say the relationship. And then there’s the complicated love story or maybe it’s multiple love stories. Because isn’t the story of Caitlin and Vix really a love story? With or without Bru?
What did you hope to show about friendship through this book?
I was writing about a very specific friendship. If Caitlin and Vix’s relationship speaks to other friendships, that wasn’t on my mind when I was writing the book. I’ve heard women say, "We’ve all had a Caitlin in our lives," but I didn’t. I did have a best friend starting in seventh grade who is still my best friend.
How does writing books for adults, like ‘Summer Sisters,’ compare to writing books for kids?
Writing is always hard. It’s funny that people would think writing for kids is easier than writing for adults. It might take more time to write a novel for adults because it’s longer and the story can go in many directions but writing for kids has to be perfect.
Vix and Caitlin are such vivid characters. Have they stayed with you? How about your other characters?
Oh yes, they’ve stayed with me! Some characters continue to live inside my head years after I’ve written about them. Caitlin and Vix certainly do.
Why do we never hear Caitlin’s perspective in ‘Summer Sisters’?
That would be another book. I’m not sure I knew this when I started but it’s the way the story evolved. Everyone gets to talk about Caitlin but Caitlin herself. She would be such an unreliable narrator.
‘Summer Sisters’ is set on Martha’s Vineyard. How come? What relationship do you have to Martha’s Vineyard?
I spent 20 summers on the Vineyard. I could never have written this book if I didn’t know the Vineyard really well. The Vineyard is an important character in the story.
The book ends on a note of ambiguity. Do you have thoughts on what happened to Caitlin at the end of the book?
Everyone asks me that. But there is no answer.
Judy Blume on writing, reading and everything else
What inspired you to write your first adult book?
When I started to write I was in my 20s. Although I was married with two pre-schoolers, I remembered everything about childhood. I identified with kids more than adults. By the time I started “Wifey,” (my first adult book), I was 37 with two teenagers and a second marriage (talk about bad choices!). I was antsy and needed to let it out. I needed to write about grown women as much as girls growing up to become women.
This book is about two young women figuring out who they are going to become. When did you know you were an author?
I took a course in writing for kids and tweens at the School of Continuing Education at NYU. I was married with two little kids, living in suburban New Jersey. Once a week I’d take the bus into New York, have a burger before class and for two hours, 6 to 8 p.m., be part of a group who were all interested in the same thing. I felt very professional. The teacher encouraged me. She said keep going with your realistic fiction and you’re going to make it.
I’d always made up stories inside my head but this was different. This was sharing my stories. It wasn’t until I read a review of “Margaret” in The New York Times that I thought, maybe I really can do this. Maybe I am a writer. But, like most writers I know, I still have doubts.
Do you ever wonder what your characters would be like today?
Never. They live in their stories. So Margaret will always be 12. No menopause for her. No bad choices in romantic partners. No questions about combining parenthood with career. She’ll never grow old.
Do you have a favorite book that you’ve ever written?
When kids ask me that question I tell them it’s like asking a mother to name her favorite child. An impossible question to answer. Each is special in its own way. There’s a story about writing each one.
How does it feel to know you’ve helped so many young girls grow up?
I can’t focus on that. If I did, I would never have been able to write another book. I mean, the responsibility! You have to be careful when you’re writing to focus only on the story you’re telling and not think about how it will be received. Later, you can thank your readers. And I do. Every day. It’s an honor to have written books that touched young lives.
What is a novel that spoke to you growing up?
When I was in elementary school, the "Betsy Tacy" series by Maud Hart Lovelace. I’m amazed at how many women writers say they grew up reading Betsy-Tacy.
Later, as a teenager I read everything. But the book that meant the most is “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Some books stay with you forever.
How do you choose where to end your books? Do you ever wonder what comes next?
My characters will usually lead me to the right ending. Also, before I start a book I know where I’m beginning and I think I know where the story is going. Sometimes I’m surprised by where my characters take me, but that’s the fun part of writing.
What are you reading now?
I just started reading Richard Russo’s new novel, "Somebody’s Fool." Then comes Ann Beattie’s new book of stories, "Onlookers."