Thursday, October 30, 2008

Never too young to start angsting

I grew up devouring the Blume canon at our woefully small public library. The covers were hazy illustrations that evoked Playtex bra ads from the '70s; the pages had been worn pulpy-soft by a thousand juvenile thumbs. But the first book I read of Blume's was not one of her infamous adolescent sagas. It was a kiddie story called Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, which nonetheless seemed so exotic to me it might as well have been a Macedonian travelogue. The story might have been about Peter Hatcher and his incorrigible baby brother, but I was more interested in the setting than the sibling rivalry. They lived in New York City! They played in Central Park! Their building had an elevator operator! Aside from those thrilling details, I related to Peter's youthful nihilism. At 9 years old, he already identified as the titular "nothing." He was Alvy Singer in saddle shoes. Every other book written for kids my age was sunny, upbeat, and about as subtle as a bullhorn-wielding camp counselor. Blume's stuff had an edge; it was grimly hilarious and worthy of my attention.

No comments: