May 25, 2009
Review: Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret., by Judy Blume
I would have loved this book as a twelve-year-old, if I had been allowed to read it, which I wasn't. I'm not sure why that is -- well, I haven't asked -- but being a decade past the targeted reader age I figured that it was probably safe for me to finally take a look through it. I picked up a copy the same age as I am for $.25 at a rummage sale.
So, Margaret Ann Simon, age almost-twelve, is moved out of New York City and into Farbrook, New Jersey. Margaret beings grade six soon after moving, and the book details her experiences at school, her quest to find a religion, her longing for breasts, and her eponymous talks with God.
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret has been frequently challenged for some controversial content: it talks frankly about menstruation and other puberty-related changes, and it shows a young girl from a non-religious Jewish-Christian family trying to choose a religion for herself. I didn't find either of these to particularly threatening; it is a well-written story about the things that twelve-year-olds are already thinking and talking about.
Yes: the text is frank. Margaret visits a synagogue and several churches, and doesn't find God in either of them. Margaret and her friends buy bras for the first time, talk about who has breasts and who doesn't, wait eagerly for their first periods, and exchange lists of the boys they like. But you're kidding yourself if you think that Judy Blume is making these things up out of whole cloth, and that taking this book away will somehow stop your daughters from being curious about boys and sex and their bodies. Same deal about religion.
For me, reading Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret was like being that age again. My friends and I talked about the same things: do you need a bra yet? do you have hair growing anywhere? do I need to use deoderant yet? does anyone have her period? do I need to shave my legs yet? And Margaret and her friends make some dumb mistakes, and are catty, and find out eventually that the attractive boy is sometimes also a big jerkface. It feels real; Judy Blume is clearly a lady who remembers what it's like to be twelve.
There are some anachronisms -- belted sanitary pads, for one, which I had to actually look up. But overall, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret is a smart, relevant book that I would recommend to pre-teens and their parents alike.