#13 – Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
I have a confession to make. I never read Judy Blume as an pre-teen girl. Not Freckle Juice, not Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, not Blubber, and not Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
I was impressed at the wide range of topics the book covers from the point of view of an 11-year-old girl: religion, puberty, peer pressure, self-esteem, sexuality…name a pre-teen issue and it’s in this book. I was also impressed with how a lot of these issues are handled.
Margaret is a young girl whose ex-Christian mother and ex-Jewish father have moved her to New Jersey from NYC (oh, the horror!). She “isn’t any religion,” which is a problem for her new friends, who want to know how she’ll know to join the YMCA or the Jewish Community Center if she doesn’t have a religion—everyone joins one of these. So Margaret decides to do her year-long school project on finding out which religion she wants to be. Throughout the year, she makes friends with a group of girls whose ringleader (Nancy) is a bit of a bully…one of those sneaky girl bullies, who puts other people down behind their backs. Nancy pressures the girls to have crushes on only the cutest boys in their class, wear bras before they need them, and makes anyone who doesn’t have their period yet feel like a big loser. Margaret talks to God throughout the book, asking for guidance through all of these issues because she doesn’t know what to do. She also goes to various church and temple services with friends and extended family members to try and “feel” God. She asks Him why she only feels Him when she’s alone, why none of the services make her feel anything but boredom, and why He doesn’t help her out with growing her chest or getting her period.
The book resonated with me because I can really relate to Margaret’s search for religion. And I’ll just come out and say it, I don’t believe in God. I could talk about this and my reasons and my conviction forrr-evvv-errr. But I won’t, at least not in this post. I just don’t, period, and it’s relevant because as I was reading the book, I was internally wincing every time I turned a page, waiting for Margaret’s big God moment, where a miracle happened and she believed and chose a religion and all ended happily. But it never happened! What happens is, (spoilers) Margaret gets pissed at God. He never answers her, she doesn’t feel anything in church, and her life seems like a big mess. So she stops talking to him. She turns in her school project as just a single page letter to her teacher, outlining all her attempts to find God, and concluding that she didn’t. She feels as though she’s failed, but as an adult who has gone through a similar experience, I rejoiced! It’s an option, not to find God. Some people do, and I respect that. But some people don’t, and that should be ok too.
There are several other pretty true-to-real life moments: the cutest boy in class turns out to be a big jerk; the most developed girl in class turns out NOT to be a slut, as is constantly rumored about her; the ringleader of the girls turns out to be the most insecure of them all; grandparents and parents don’t have all the answers and sometimes screw things up. This book is amazing. I really wish I had read it as a young girl. I can’t wait to share it with a future daughter or niece. To share the moral of the story, that sometimes everything does not work out in the end, and that’s okay. Bravo, Judy Blume. Bravo.