Stephanie Bradt: Oh Judy Blume, you’ve done it again. I read STARRING SALLY J. FREEDMAN AS HERSELF directly after reading L.A. Meyer’s VIVA JACQUELINA and it was an interesting juxtaposition. I noticed that I had the same feeling after reading each of them: An empty, what-was-the-point-of-that feeling. Also like the BLOODY JACK series, there were times that I appreciated the humor of SALLY FREEDMAN. As with Meyer's books, Blume’s books are campy and pointless, but can be entertaining nevertheless.
I write this without having read my Dutch cousin’s thoughts on the matter. I will list the things that struck me about this book and then compare notes. Because I find things like that entertaining...
-I love how they were constantly talking about the “starving kids in Europe.” Apparently, post-World War II Europe is today’s Africa. It was just so funny and weird to see that phrase, and it occurred throughout the book.
-Sally is a drama queen, but designating a random guy to be Hitler in hiding and daydreaming gruesome and creepy situations? Really? And suggesting to play “Concentration Camp” in spite of (or because of) the fact that she is Jewish and more than one family member has JUST died in a concentration camp, WTF?
-Let me get this straight: Sally’s brother, Douglas, gets chased by a “strange man” (a pedophile? We will never know), which causes him to fall in water, break his elbow, and contract a kidney disease (nephritis, I think) that causes the entire family to move to Florida so that he can get better.
-Sally hopes Douglas doesn’t die because his funeral wouldn’t be “as fun” as the other funerals she has attended.
-Oh! This is Judy Blume! Token puberty discussion! Today's topic: bras and breast growth!
-The most random-ass shit happens in all of Judy Blume’s books that have nothing to do with the rest of the story and are never followed up on. (L.A. Meyer, anyone)? Examples from this book include: a discussion about pulpy vs. no-pulp orange juice; Sally gets attacked by a man o’ war; the alcoholic mother of Sally’s friend, Barbara; and Omar the cat gets hit by a car and dies.
-Last but not least: Again, you are telling me that Douglas was chased by some strange man who likes to chase children, but the only point of the strange man being in the story is for his indirect role in giving Douglas kidney problems? At least I learned that one of the dangers of being chased by a possible serial rapist is coming down with nephritis.
Jordan Bradt: I found STARRING SALLY J. FREEDMAN AS HERSELF by Judy Blume at the local public library in the used book room. What first caught my attention was the scrawl left on the front cover by the previous reader: “STHIT.” Should that have been “shit”? Ah, another Judy Blume book. I don’t blame the previous reader for having that sentiment.
Once again, I expected more than what I got. The book is supposedly autobiographical, so I was interested in learning about Judy Blume. The cover from this 1980 copy also intrigued me. Sally poses in summer wear in front of a vanity mirror – the same vanity my grandma has in her attic. Since the book takes place in the 1940’s, I inserted my grandmother as Sally, even though my grandmother would have been in her twenties rather than a young teenager. After a few pages, I could no longer bear to imagine my grandmother in such drivel.
The story lacked character development. In fact, I never got to know, or care for, any of the characters, not even Sally. By Chapter 2, Sally annoyed me. A lot. The story also lacked a strong central plot (other than Sally’s life and her day-to-day experiences). Judy Blume offered many great moments, but then didn’t follow through. In order to fully put my thoughts and feelings about the book in order, I decided to go chapter by chapter.
Prologue: Sally and her family are on vacation…in a rooming house with other people. Whatever. Maybe I’m the only one who has never stayed in one of those places. Anyway, World War II ends. A tall man swings Sally all around. They all celebrate. Sally complains that she’s sick and her mom ignores her, repeatedly, until Sally vomits onto the New Jersey beach. What kind of mom doesn’t listen when her little girl tells her she feels really sick?
Chapter 1: Sally’s older brother, Douglas, is injured. The family makes it sound really cryptic. The entire chapter plays it up into this whole big thing, so when his recovery is rushed through, it feel like a huge let down.
Chapter 2: Sally likes to “play” Holocaust with her friends, in a sort of pretend game where she deals with her feelings over losing family members in Concentration Camps. These feelings could have been built up and explored, helping Sally to mature and come to terms with reality throughout the novel, but instead they were never fully developed, leaving a creepy sense to her “pretend” game.
Chapter 3: Sally says goodbye to her old life in New Jersey. Her mom, grandmother, and Douglas are moving to Florida. The warm weather will supposedly help her brother to find his full health again (although his illness is never described in great, or any, detail). There is also a hidden undertone that you don’t fully realize until later on that Sally’s parents have been having issues, hence the separation. As an adult, I picked up on the “clues” later on; not sure if a child would understand. It might make him or her confused throughout the novel.
Chapter 4: Time for another great subplot! While on the train to Florida, Sally meets an African American family. She is later horrified to find out they had to move the further south they traveled because they couldn’t be with “Whites.” This opened many doors for Sally to come to terms with her own beliefs and realize how wrong segregation is. Instead, it happens and the story moves on.
Chapter 5: Sally goes to school. She has lice. She can’t go to school. Sally is sad. Um…what did I just read? The mom told her the school nurse was lying, rather than creating a teachable moment.
Chapter 6: More school, lots of rules. At this point, I started to lose interest in the story.
Chapter 7: Creepy Candy Man renewed my interest! Sally and her new friend (who I found bitchy throughout the whole novel, but she was supposed to seem awesome) stumble upon Creepy Candy Man. He is an older man who offers them candy. Her friend accepts, but Sally remembers her mom’s warnings and runs away. While this could be another awesome moment in the story, it instead turns into a time when Sally is stupid. The man apparently lives in her apartment building and is just being nice. NO. He should be a creeper and actually teach the reader a lesson!
Chapter 8: Letters between Sally and Dad. They didn’t help me to understand the story any better, so eventually I began skimming them.
Chapters 9-11: Inane life in Florida. Stuff happened to Sally. Nothing really stood out to me as memorable.
Chapter 12: Dad visited. Sally kissed her dad. A lot. Like, in a creepy way. Oh, yeah, and just more Florida stuff.
Chapters 13-25: More stuff I don’t care about. Her mother and grandmother are too focused on their own lives. Douglas is just there. Sally annoys me so much I want to skip everything about her, which is 99% of each page. I would have liked to see what life was like back in the 40’s and use the novel as a historical item of learning, but instead, I discovered that kids then act just like kids now. Not a bad thing, but it didn’t help my enjoyment.
Cgapter 26: OMG, the final pages almost redeemed the entire book! I was so excited, I was practically bouncing on my bed as I read. Douglas explains what really happened to him when he got hurt in Chapter 1. Finally, some closure. He explains that it was the creepy man in the woods. Yes, tell me more! Did he attack? Was Douglas raped? Will we discover some juicy details and learn to avoid dark woods? Um, no. Sally and Douglas laugh. I turned the page…to nothing. The End.