By Judy Blume
First published in 1970
My history with this book:
I first read this book when I was about 8, a little below the target age, but I tended to read older than my age. I remember loving this book when I was kid. I read it multiple times. It really spoke to me as a kid nearing my tween years (not that the term tween existed back then of course). I had pretty specific memories of this book.
I was looking forward to re-reading Are You There, God, It’s Me, Margaret since I had loved it so much as a kid, but I did wonder if the book would hold up. I’m happy to say that it did. To paraphrase Stefon, this book has everything: budding female sexuality, frank discussion of periods, kissing games, mean girls, religious confusion, and an awesome grandmother.
I feel like this book was almost required reading for young girls in the 70s and 80s. It’s still referenced a lot in pop culture, and it’s arguably Judy Blume’s best-known book.
Margaret Simon is going through a lot of changes. She and her family have just moved to the suburbs of New Jersey (possibly in an effort to get away from the dad’s mother, but it doesn’t work because she’s awesome and she’s not going to let a little thing like having to take several different forms of public transportation keep her from her granddaughter), she’s starting a new school, she’s entering puberty, and she’s exploring the possibility of choosing a religion.
I liked Margaret this time around, but probably for different reasons than when I was a child. She’s a little sarcastic and she’s bright and funny. She’s not a big personality like her grandmother or her friend Nancy, but she’s appealing and the perfect stand-in for the reader.
Religion is an important part of the book (not a surprise, given the title). Margaret’s father was raised Jewish and her mother Christian. They both left their respective faiths when they married, and they’ve raised Margaret without a religion, telling her that she can choose when she grows up. This wasn’t an issue when they lived in New York, but in their new suburban town, everyone wants to know their religion, because everyone is town belongs to either the Jewish Community Center (the Jewish people) or the Y (everyone else), and it’s based on religion. Margaret has her own relationship with God. She doesn’t pray in a traditional sense, but she has nightly conversations with God, talking over her day and asking for advice. She has to do a school project, and she makes religion her focus.
Looking back, I didn’t remember the religious aspect nearly as well as all the period talk. A huge part of this book is about Margaret and her friends anticipating getting their periods. Eleven going on twelve is a weird age, totally not a girl, not yet a woman, and I remember the whole puberty thing being exciting but also kind of terrifying. Judy Blume really captures that in this book. Margaret and her friends are obsessed with getting their periods and their growing breasts, and at their weekly club meetings, they discuss these things (as well as boys). There’s some competition about it, mostly with Nancy, who positions herself as the group’s leader and actually goes as far as lying about getting her period while she’s on vacation. Margaret discovers the lie because she’s with Nancy when she actually gets her period for the first (and Nancy completely freaks out). One thing I remember about the period stuff in the book is that I was fascinated by the mechanics of it: Margaret discusses buying a belt and learning how to attach the pad to the belt. At the time I first read the book, I asked my mother about this and was disappointed to learn that feminine hygiene technology had advanced to the point that pads were now adhesive and no one needed belts anymore. (Side note: As an adult, I can’t even imagine what a pain the belt must have been, especially under tights or pants. Feeling grateful to live in an era where dealing with periods is pretty simple, and there are multiple options.) The edition I read now had been revised to remove the whole sanitary belt thing, which definitely keeps the book from feeling too dated, and now Margaret uses plain old adhesive pads.
Breast size is another major topic. I had forgotten the scene where Margaret’s mother takes her to buy her first bra, and they first go to the women’s lingerie section, but a saleswoman sends them to the juniors’ department and Margaret is mortified. Blume also tackles the topics of girls who develop early and slut-shaming. Margaret’s classmate Laura Danker has noticeable breasts and she’s taller than everyone else in the class (boys included). I don’t remember feeling sorry for Laura when I was younger, but I really did this time around. Nancy tells Margaret to stay away from Laura because she goes behind the A&P with Nancy’s brother and his friend Moose. The girls all seem to hate Laura, supposedly for her bad reputation, but really out of fear and jealousy. As Laura says to Margaret, after Margaret has accused her of going behind the A&P with boys, “Do you think it’s any fun to be the biggest kid in the class? … Think about how you’d feel if you had to wear a bra in fourth grade and how everybody laughed and how you always had to cross your arms in front of you. And about how the boys called you dirty names just because of how you looked.” Poor Laura. It’s a rough scene, but it’s an important turning point for Margaret, who realizes that she can’t believe everything she hears (especially from Nancy). I was impressed to read such a sensitive treatment of slut-shaming in a book written in 1970.
Nancy is a classic mean girl, and I’m not sure I realized as a child just how awful she is. She shames Gretchen for wanting to eat oreos, she spreads rumors about Laura Danker, and she lies about getting her period. Margaret doesn’t stop being friends with her, but she definitely has Nancy’s number by the end of the book.
Does it hold up?
Yes, surprisingly well. I expected it to feel more dated, but it really wasn’t. A few elements may strike kids as a bit quaint, but the emotions in this book are so universal they don’t feel dated at all.
Is there any objectionable content?
Nope, unless you’re really squeamish about menstruation.
Can you read it aloud?
Probably not so much. The target age is a little past the reading aloud stage, and I personally would have been mortified to be reading this one with a parent, given things like “we must, we must increase our busts,” spin the bottle, and copious talk of periods.
Do I want my kid to read it?
Definitely, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen. It’s ironic that the first book I re-read is one that my son may not be interested in reading. I feel really strongly that kids shouldn’t limit themselves to so-called girl books or boy books. That said, will a boy in the target age group for Are You There God really want to read a book that’s mainly about getting your first period? My husband just laughed when I asked his opinion. A young boy could really learn a lot of budding adolescent female sexuality from this book, but I realize it may be a tough sell.