‘Judy Blume Forever’ Review: The Y.A. Author Who Went There First

There are few living children’s authors who have connected as deeply to their readers as Judy Blume. That’s the argument of “Judy Blume Forever,” a new documentary from Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok that pays unwavering tribute to Blume and her imprint on young adult literature. The film, streaming on Amazon Prime Video starting Friday, features the 85-year-old writer narrating the major milestones of her life and career, cut together with interviews of famous Blume acolytes such as the writer and director Lena Dunham, the comedian Samantha Bee, the writer Jacqueline Woodson and Anna Konkle, the co-creator of “PEN15.”

Since the publication of her breakthrough novel “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” in 1970, while she was a young housewife in suburban New Jersey, Blume has maintained a fiercely devoted audience that has found enlightenment and understanding through her preteen and teenage characters. It’s not uncommon to hear fans of Blume’s work say that reading her books felt as though she was speaking directly to them through the pages. This is thanks, in no small part, to her frank discussion of mature themes that, at the time she was writing, were considered unusual for what we now call Y.A. novels: adolescent sexuality, religion, disability, bullying, and — in many of her books — the unfair expectations of purity and obedience that parents and society place on children.

“Judy Blume Forever” does a fine job of synthesizing the influences that Blume’s life had on her writing — in particular her father’s death when she was 21, as well as the marriage and divorce that inspired her first adult-oriented novel, “Wifey.” Blume, a longtime free-speech advocate, also has no qualms about drawing parallels between the Reagan-era book censorship campaigns she endured and the hundreds of attempts to ban books in just the past year.

In a successful showcase of what might be lost if Blume’s books were removed from libraries and schools, the film returns to one of the most compelling aspects of career: her correspondence with thousands of children, whose letters to her span 50 years and are now archived at Yale. Pardo and Wolchok interview two of Blume’s pen pals, now adults themselves, and their recounting of her impact on their lives encompasses some of the film’s most moving portions.

At times, “Judy Blume Forever” can resemble a highlight reel of Blume’s bibliography, with large sections dedicated to her books’ most memorable excerpts, such as the masturbation sequence in “Deenie.” Given her vast literary output, it’s hard to give complex stories like “Blubber” and “Forever” the nuance they deserve in a short documentary, especially one this preoccupied with showing Judy Blume the person, jogging on the beach and owning a small bookstore in Key West. Compared with her most obvious predecessor, Maurice Sendak, who led an intensely private life, Blume has always been an open book, despite the flurry of controversy around her. That may not make for the most exciting documentary, but it does make Blume herself even more endearing.

Judy Blume Forever
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. Watch on Amazon Prime Video.

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