Pros: Beautifully written characters, brilliant picture of the triumphs and tortures of puberty
Cons: It's a bit dated, but not in an entirely bad way
Margaret Simon wants to be normal. Is that really so much to ask? She doesn't think so, and in her frequent chats with God, she makes it clear that she could use a little help with this whole "growing up" thing. Judy Blume's perennial favorite among pre-teen girls, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. follows Margaret as she deals with the slings and arrows of sixth grade. I read this when I was that age and I'm giving it to my daughter for Christmas. Honestly, I think reading Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. is a rite of passage in and of itself.
Margaret Ann Simon. Daughter of a Jewish father and a Christian mother. Is not any religion herself. Eleven years old and entering the sixth grade. Just moved from New York City to a small town in New Jersey. Has not gotten her first period, her first bra or her first kiss. Welcome to Tween-ville, USA.
We enter the story as Margaret moves into her new suburban neighborhood. She meets Nancy immediately, who fills her in on all the inner workings of school and her new town. Margaret feels lucky to have found a friend so quickly and more or less does whatever Nancy suggests. Margaret wants to fit in and be normal, after all. Nancy is a good friend, if a little bossy. She and two other girls, along with Margaret, become a tight group - sharing secrets like who they have a crush on and following "secret club rules" like all wearing bras.
As the story develops we realize that Margaret is trying to do more than fit into her bra and get her period - she's trying to figure out what religion means to her and which religion she might want to be. Her parents have given the choice to her to make once she's grown, which has caused all sorts of friction with various grandparents. Margaret herself talks to God regularly, always letting him know it's her and asking about how she might deal with "religion", her period, her bra size.
One of the beautiful things about Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. is that, even though she doesn't realize it, Margaret has a closer relationship with God than any of her friends who regularly go to church or temple. Her dismay over not having a religion is tempered incredibly sweetly by her feeling of connection with her own God. She has religion, she just doesn't know it. The whole "religion" thing is a quite controversial aspect of the book, but in my opinion it is among the most earnest and touching portrayals of a child's innocent spirituality available in YA literature.
The portions of the book dealing with puberty, boys, fitting in with peers and being true to yourself all ring almost painfully true. Each and every woman who reads or has read this book knows how it feels to either eagerly await or thoroughly dread the arrival of that first period. And asking one's mother for a first bra. And having a first kiss. And not wearing socks even though it gives you blisters because it's the cool thing to do. We've all been there, we know Margaret because we were Margaret. Kids know her because they are going through the same things. Times may change, but a first period or bra or kiss still have the enormous power to thrill or frighten as they did when Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. was originally published in 1970.
That isn't to say that the book isn't dated. There are references to supper parties, velvet dresses, record players and wearing hats in church that are going to seem old fashioned and funny to kids now. In a way, I almost think it's better for some of the details to be dated. When I read the book, it all struck so close to home I almost couldn't bear it. The distance in time helps soften the realism just enough to allow the themes to shine through without the whole setting feeling quite so much like it was written directly from the child's head.
Judy Blume knows how to talk to and write for kids. She seems to remember the details of the perils of adolescence with a kind of brilliant clarity that makes her characters come alive. The internal and external dialogue is perfectly, innocently wonderful. As an adult reading this book, I can smile over Margaret and some of her dilemmas - as a child I felt her every pain and triumph as if it were my own. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.is a gem of a book. I tore through it as a child and again as an adult. Blume keeps things moving in a very natural way - there are few situations that seem contrived. Mostly, we realize that puberty is a rollercoaster that doesn't need contrivances to fill it with drama. Any parent of a teenager will confirm that there is always plenty of drama to fill any possible drama-void.
I highly recommend Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.to any pre-teen girl - with one caveat. A parent should read it, too. Then parent and child should talk about it. It's a lot easier to talk about how scary it is to contemplate your first period when you can do it through a book. This is a rich source of both reassurance for children and reminders for adults that puberty is hard but can be survived. Highly, highly recommended.
Are you there Censors? It's me, millinocket. Will you please stop trying to keep Judy Blume's books about growing up away from the kids who want and need to read them? You've managed to put five of her books on the top one hundred most challenged books of the decade. Each of those books, including "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret", deal with growing and changing and dealing with the decisions that young people make - and the consequences of those decisions. Judy Blume knows kids, she writes about things that are important to them, she gets into their heads and talks about what worries them, what scares them, how they change over time. Censors, I know you don't like it when she talks about puberty or religion or menstruation. But Censors, that's what kids think about, those are the things that they live and breathe. If you do not want your child to read about puberty or religion or menstruation, then don't allow them to read the book. Though personally I think you're fools for keeping beautifully written, sensitive and realistic characters and situations away from your child and may someday pay the price for squelching this glorious outlet for natural curiosity, it is your decision to make for your family. Censors, it is not your decision to make for mine. Or anyone else's. Stop trying to impose your morals on those of us who want our children to understand themselves, their bodies and the changes they face in puberty. Let us discuss these books with them, let us use all the resources available to us to help our children face the challenges of adolescence. I don't want my children to be afraid of puberty, I don't want them to be ignorant about their bodies or their feelings. I want them to be able to read anything they can and want to that helps them feel secure, reassured, comforted and empowered, that helps them talk to me, that helps them understand themselves. Judy Blume is a friend to every parent who ever lived through adolescence with a child. Censors, as much as you think you have the right to decide what is best for my child, you do not. I will buy the books you challenge, I will stand proud and confront you when you try to bully your way into dictating what my child can or cannot read. I will advocate for my child, other children and a society that values free speech and you cannot stop me. So, dear Censors, challenge as you will. But I and others like me will always be there, reminding you that we value the very things that you despise. You can try to ban books, but while there are parents out there who care for their children, their freedom and the rights of everyone in this country to read what they choose, you will not ever ban a book without a fight. That is a challenge you can count on.
My apologies to pestyside for being late to enter her Banned Book Week Write Off. You can find the details and other participants here. If you would like to read Judy Blume's thoughts on censorship in relation to her own books, you can find an interview with the author here: