“Word gets around fast at school. By lunchtime on Tuesday everyone knew that Rachel and I weren’t speaking.”
Boys, bras, and best friends. I’m pretty sure Judy Blume is more of an expert on pre-teendom than all pre-teens combined.
Just as Long as We’re Together revolves around Stephanie Hirsch as she starts seventh grade with her best friend since forever Rachel, and her best friend since earlier that month Alison. She’s got to navigate through school dances, run ins with the cute grade nine boy, weight struggles and fights with friends all while finding out her parents are in the midst of a trial separation.
I don’t always feel all that grown up, but at this point junior high is half my life ago, so I remember it less clearly than I’d like to believe. Nonetheless, I can still empathize with some of Steph’s struggles. In a way, this is the most mundane book I’ve read so far. It reads like a diary that almost could have been mine – “One of them, Amber Ackbourne, I have never liked. She has such an attitude!” I didn’t know Amber Ackbourne, but I knew girls like her.
That’s the appeal of it, of course. I think it’s easy for adults to forget how sucky life can be for a 12-year-old. Granted many seventh graders don’t have to deal with the same scale of problems that adults face (though some encounter more traumatic things than any adult will ever experience). But that’s why mortgages and divorce and career choices aren’t decisions you’re tasked with at 12.
As a kid I frequently heard that whatever challenge I was faced with was something I probably wouldn’t remember in five, ten, fifteen years, and the fact that I can’t list all of the events that prompted that advice proves that it’s generally true. But there are moments that stick out. In grade ten, if I recall correctly, there was a huge argument over who was going to retrieve tape from the comm tech classroom. Ridiculous reasoning that led to many tears, first of anger and sadness, and then at joy of reuniting as friends. Hormones man. They getcha.
The point is those things matter at the time. And while their outcomes may not (though they may!) impact your life for years to come in the same way adult decisions will, the memories linger and the experiences shape you. Steph is dealing with tougher stuff than I had to at her age – separating parents can’t be easy. But most of the rest of it…I feel you girl.
At 12, you just want to know you’re normal. Later you develop a more nuanced understanding of normality and figure out no one is really “normal”. But in the mean time having a book that somewhat mirrors your life is a small comfort. Reading it again brought me back and I must say, like Steph I have some lovely memories, but I’m glad I’ve moved on from grade seven.