Much like Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Starring Sally J. Friedman contains a portrait of an era. The novel contains more than mere descriptions; I could actually feel what it was like to live in Miami right after World War II. Sally's neighborhood, the school, the beach...all were so perfectly created that I felt that I was there, spending time with Andrea and Shelby along with Sally.
Probably the descriptions in this novel are so apt because this is largely an autobiographical tale. I read that Judy Blume really did spend one school year in Miami with her mother, brother and grandmother, and that many stories contained in Sally J. Friedman really happened to Judy Blume.
The novel realistically addresses true concerns and fears concerning adolescence. While most people no longer worry about one of their neighbors turning out to be Adolph Hitler, children often fear things that they learn from newspapers. Their understanding of current events is often one-sided and uninformed, as they are shielded from all the facts by well-meaning adults. They fill in the gaps with their imaginations. Additionally, kids and adults alike have concerns about fitting in, keeping and making friends, and mortality.
I especially enjoyed Sally's relationship with her mother and father. Her mother is a worrier...to the point that she lets much of the joy in life pass her by. Her father is more free spirited, and tries to explain to Sally why her mother behaves the way that she does. One beautiful scene in the novel occurs when Sally's dad explains that one can worry so much, that they don't enjoy what they have when they have it. Sally struggles to be more like her father, while appreciating the concerns and motivations of her mother.
While this book paints a picture of an era, it contains smart prose and human insight that is timeless. As all good historical fiction does, it teaches us something about the past while involving us in a story that is universal.