Retro Read

Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret

By - Jun 12th, 2011 04:00 am
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Judy Blume's Are you there God? it's me, Margaret

Where would generations of women be without Judy Blume? Sure, some people wanted to ban her books, but I loved Judy Blume because she wrote about characters I could actually relate to. They dealt with divorce, death, religion, sex, bullying and peer pressure. But most of all they dealt with the difficulties of growing up: physically, emotionally and mentally. Blume didn’t sugar-coat these difficulties nor did she patronize the reader. And that’s why one of my favorite books is her 1970 classic Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

Margaret Simon is the title character. She’s 12 years old and just moved to suburban New Jersey. She’s worried about starting a new school, making friends and other assorted growing pains. She soon befriends three girls: Nancy, Gretchen and Janie. Together they gossip, talk about boys, wonder when they’ll get their periods and practice breast development exercises, chanting, “We must, we must, we must increase our bust.”

70s edition cover of Judy Blume's classic coming of age storyMargaret has other important things on her mind beyond growing out of a training bra and needing a box of Kotex. Margaret has questions about religion, questions that can’t easily be answered. Her mother is Christian and her father is Jewish. But what is Margaret? According to her friends, she has to pick one of the other so she can join either the YMCA or the Jewish Community Center.

Margaret’s paternal grandmother calls her granddaughter “My Jewish girl” and takes Margaret to synagogue. Margaret’s estranged maternal grandparents are convinced Margaret is Christian. Margaret even tries to go to confession at a Catholic church. But all this leaves Margaret confused, and she gets angry with God. Eventually she begins to accept the messy realities of growing up, though Blume refuses to tie up Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in a tidy little bow.

My mother gave me a copy of the book when I was ten. I was the only girl in my fifth grade class to get my hands on a copy and soon my classmates asked to borrow it. By the time I got it back, the book was pretty much in tatters, widely read and hugely loved.

It’s been ages since I read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret but it still resonates with me. To this day I can remember Gretchen was the first of Margaret’s girl tribe to get her period, and all the girls want to mack on Philip Leroy during “7 Minutes in Heaven.” And before “Sex and the City” gave me the term “frenemy” I knew Nancy was kind of a bitch even though she was supposed to be Margaret’s friend.

I hope today’s girls like Margaret like I did. Sure, girls have Hermione Granger and Bella Swan now, but I also hope they have Margaret Simon. Her appeal is enduring and universal, no matter what generation you got slid into.

Are you there, Judy? It’s me, Jennifer. Thank you.

What book or books do you find yourself going back to? How many times have you read your favorite book? Tell us about yours by leaving a comment, and let us know if you’d like to contribute your own piece to this summer series by writing Erin Petersen.

0 thoughts on “Retro Read: Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Jennifer, I LOVED this book! We passed it around our class too. I even told my brother, who is 8 yrs older, about the “exercises”. One time, I was in the bathroom and heard him coming up the stairs, so I pretended I was “exercising”. To this day, he stills believes he “caught me”. LOL! What memories you brought back with this article. Keep up the good work!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for your comment. I’m giggling over you fooling your brother with the “exercises.” Sadly, for me, they never quite worked.

    It’s funny how Margaret just transcends generations and even continents. In the book “Shelf Discovery” writer Meg Cabot relays a story about re-reading this book while talking to some girls at Oprah’s school in South Africa. Ms. Cabot thought she’d just get blank stares from the audience. Instead, she got thunderous applause and cheers. Girls everywhere love “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” It’s a classic.

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