Judy Blume's Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself
Book review by Ramona Davis
What would you do if you had to leave everything you've ever known behind for a year? Could you live the adventure everyone expects you to find?
It's the end of World War II and Sally, her brother Douglas, her mother, and her grandmother are moving to Florida from New Jersey. This decision is made when Douglas gets deathly ill staying in wet clothes, in the cold, after falling in the lake in Union Woods; his doctor tells Sally's parents that the sunshine and warm air will do him good, so Mr. and Mrs. Freedman decide to find a place for the family to move to for the school year while Douglas regains his health.
On the train ride down to Florida, Sally is introduced to racism when she meets a black woman and her children, then the next day finds that they have disappeared though she knows they are going to the same place as she is. When Sally asks her mother about this, Mrs. Freedman explains that in the part of the country that they are in, black people and white people have to travel separately. Sally doesn't understand this and is upset; she is also confused as to why her mother isn't upset by it also.
When they finally reach Florida, Sally finds it isn't the adventure her father promised her that it would be; the apartment that her parents rented is tiny and she has to share space with her brother, she can't start school because the nurse finds lice in her hair (she tells Mrs. Freedman “...you have been traveling...she could have picked them up anywhere...”), and once she does start school, the first girl that she meets says she hates her.
Things aren't so bad in school however, because Sally does meet, and make friends, with a sixth grader named Andrea, as well as Shelby, who is in the same grade as Sally but in a different class. She also meets (and eventually kisses) Peter, who is a classmate who seems to like her.
Sally's 'escape,' in this somewhat autobiographical book about the author, Judy Blume, is her overactive imagination. When she faces personal struggles, confusion, and sometimes the overwhelming loneliness of missing her father and friends in New Jersey, she creates stories in her mind, Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself.
This was probably one of the first truly controversial books I read as a pre-teen. It not only touched on racism, but also, anti-Semitism, and life in the 1940's. Reading Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself again, 30 years later, it is still shocking to me that blacks and whites couldn't sit together on buses and trains in the South, or even drink from the same water fountain (at one point in the story Sally goes to drink at a water fountain, and a woman yanks her away pointing out a 'colored only' sign above it). It's also still amazing the fear and hate that Hitler instilled in the Jewish community - to the point that people wouldn't even speak his name without spitting on the ground.
Review continues below.
Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself by Judy Blume is a classic that reminds us older readers the struggles that America faced in the 1940's. It also introduces our children to the hardships that kids their age faced during that period, along with the ways they survived their hardships - through closeness with family and friends and in Sally's case...by using her imagination.
Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself was one of the top selling chapter books of the last century.
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