As the first stop on my reunion tour of Judy Blume’s classic children/YA novels, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was a really sweet–albeit somewhat outdated–dash down memory lane. It tells the tale of Margaret, a 12-year-old city girl who must adjust to the suburbs of New Jersey and make new friends, while on the uncertain cusp of puberty. Written in 1970, the book sparked controversy and censorship due to “the frank discussions of sexual and religious topics,” according to The Blume Saloon, but modern readers might find the formal invitation to a fellow classmate’s ‘supper party’ and the celebratory countdown to first periods rather quaint.
A child of the ’80s myself, the concept of feeling such pressure not to be the last of one’s friends to menstruate feels foreign. I do remember wondering when my first period would come, but I don’t remember announcing the occasion to any of my friends. My mom certainly didn’t talk to me about it or give me a heads up on what to expect, unlike Margaret’s mother.
Something that did feel very familiar was the insecurity Margaret feels about being slow to grow in the boob department (though I never stuffed my bra). Exercises, prayers and envy–oh my! My inner child cringed remembering the awkwardness of changing my clothes in front of other girls. And what girl growing up in the ‘80s could forget the chant: “We must–we must-we must increase our bust”? But seriously, what kind of friend is Nancy Wheeler, who shames Margaret by laughingly commenting, “Oh, you’re still flat”? But yes, I do recall my class humiliating the early developers and making up nasty stories about those girls, like Margaret and her friends did to poor Lauren. Yes, kids can be pretty awful.
So much feels for first crushes, first boy-girl parties, first kisses and secret clubs! When Margaret and the PTSs (Pre-Teen Sensations) “got up the guts” to look at the nude male form in a parent’s medical book and to peruse a copy of Playboy, I couldn’t help but remember giggling with my friends over the nudity we’d scope out. (Man, I can’t wait to talk about Forever!) One wonders how today’s kids–who have all kinds of nudity available for viewing with just one click on any of their digital devices–would laugh at the innocence of children from the past.
Another big part of this book that I could relate to was the question elicited by the novel’s title. In a new community where everyone seems to have a clear religious affiliation, Margaret suddenly finds herself forced to tease out her spiritual beliefs and religious predilections. The daughter of a Christian mother and Jewish father, she realizes that feels most comfortable talking with God directly at the end of the day, one-on-one. Growing up in a rather benign Christian church, I remember my own earnest questions and pleas, pondering whether God was actually a presence that could hear me and answer my prayers. I read the Bible on my own and was actually encouraged to determine my own interpretation of what I read. Like Margaret, having such independent thinkers as parents, who didn’t jam their own beliefs down my throat, helped me form my own beliefs regarding religion and find my own path to spirituality, which has served me quite well in adulthood.
I really enjoyed rediscovering and embracing my inner child by reading Are You There God?… Gifted a MasterClass with the beloved, taboo-breaking children’s author by my childhood best friend and currently lacking a library card for the new town to which I just moved, now is the perfect time to run through the Teen Collection of Blume books that my parents gave me this past Christmas. I can’t wait to read Tiger Eyes next; the preview for it is heartbreakingly compelling.
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