“Do you have a copy of Just as Long as We’re Together?”
Our fourth grade teacher looked to the side, as if she was giving the question a lot of thought. “I don’t think we have that book anymore,” she said slowly. “Sorry.”
We left her desk feeling dejected … and angry. We knew that our teacher wasn’t telling us the whole truth. Our first experience with book censorship.
We would show her.
As soon as the book showed up in the Scholastic Book Orders, we all ordered our own copies. When the books finally came and our teacher had to distribute them, we kept our books on our desks proudly. And we read. About Jeremy Dragon. About how hairy legs indicated a boy was “experienced.” About Stephanie getting her first period. About friendship. And we couldn’t put it down.
Published in 1987, Judy Blume’s (www.judyblume.com) Just as Long as We’re Together (https://www.amazon.com/Just-As-Long-Were-Together/dp/0385739885/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1469071291&sr=8-1&keywords=just+as+long+as+we%27re+together) remains one of my all time favorite young adult novels. The story of Stephanie, Rachel and Alison is a timeless story of friendship and growing up and it was a book that helped me learn so much about becoming a teenager and a young woman.
“Stephanie is into hunks” (1). From the first line of this book, my friends and I were hooked. This wasn’t Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing or even Blubber (great as those Judy Blume classics are). Stephanie had a poster of a young Richard Gere hanging over her bed, prompting her mother’s description and for fourth graders just starting to get copies of Tiger Beat for Fred Savage and NKOTB pictures, Stephanie was a character we wanted to relate to and could relate to even more than Peter Hatcher. While we weren’t quite ready for Forever or Summer Sisters, Stephanie was our heroine.
The book continues by introducing us to Rachel, Stephanie’s long time best friend who is a perfectionist, right down to her perfect notebooks, and Alison, the new girl at school who can speak with her dog and whose adopted mother is a famous actress. Stephanie, Rachel and Alison journey through seventh grade and experience the ups and downs of friendship, family and junior high crushes. What made our fourth grade teacher pull the book from the classroom library? What was so controversial?
There are no “swear words” in the book. The girls in the book never have sex. Some sweet first kisses are as far as they go. When they discuss sex, it’s in that same innocent, strange rumor way that is normal and typical of a pre-teen (at least I hope that’s how pre-teens still discuss sex–who knows). Stephanie gets her period. While these topics were deemed taboo by our teacher, prompting her censorship, I am forever grateful to Judy Blume for being an author not afraid to shy away from these topics.
In my house, discussions about topics like these were strained or non-existent. Just as Long as We’re Together and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret gave me and I’m sure many other young girls a way to have a dialogue and understanding of what it means to grow into a young woman, and isn’t this what literature should do–inspire dialogue, cultivate introspection and empathy, and inform?
My Scholastic Book Club copy of the book has been on my bookshelf since elementary school. I took it with me to college, and it sits next to me now as I write this, almost 30 years after my first read. I have taken it out to read when I feel lonely, when I want to reminisce, when I just want to relax before bed. I have never put my copy in my classroom library for fear of it being damaged or a student not returning it. Now a mother to a daughter, I will let her read it one day, even in fourth grade. But she will have her own copy. Still keeping mine.