Judy Blume’s 1970 book about soon-to-be 12 year old Margaret Simon was a big hit at slumber parties with the pre-pubescent girl crowd. (We also read Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, the counterpart book for pre-adolescent boys, and passed Blume’s racy love story Forever around in class, with the “good parts” marked.) Blume created characters kids could identify with, and focused on topics that we fretted about, or spent a lot of time thinking about (divorce, integration, sex, and a host of conditions that could leave your typical teen feeling left out). Although one doesn’t see her books around quite as much any more, Judy Blume books were all the rage for a decade or two.
Margaret has just moved from New York City to a suburb in New Jersey. She’s worried about making friends and fitting in at school. She’s anxiously waiting to develop you know where and is relieved when she learns that her new friends, the “Pre-Teen Sensations”, haven’t started menstruating yet, either. Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret. chronicles kissing, bra shopping, Margaret’s first boy-girl party, dealing with a friend who lies, the importance of fitting in, and of course, the official 6th grade movie, shown only to girls, What Every Girl Should Know, “brought to you as a courtesy of the Private Lady Company.”
Margaret’s father is Jewish and her mother is Christian, and their marriage caused quite an uproar in the families. Neither parent currently practices a religion, and Margaret has been told she can choose her own when she grows up. While the state of her soul is of utmost importance to her grandparents, everyone else regards her lack of religion as more of an inconvenience:
”But if you aren’t any religion, how are you going to know if you should join the Y or the Jewish Community Center?” Janie asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I never thought about it. Maybe we won’t join either one.”
“But everybody belongs to one or the other,” Nancy said. (p. 35)
Margaret talks to God in her own way, and when her 6th grade teacher, Miles J. Benedict, announces to the class that he expects everyone to complete a year-long project, she decides to try to come to a decision about what religion she should be. She concentrates on Judaism, Christianity, and Catholicism (yes, I know the last is a sub-set of the second, but this is how she phrases it) because those are the religions of the people she knows. She goes to temple on Rosh Hashanah with her grandmother, tries once to go to confession, and attends church services with friends:
So I went. The funniest thing was it was just like temple. Except it was all in English. But we read from a prayer book that didn’t make sense and the minister gave a sermon I couldn’t follow and I counted eight black hats, four red ones, six blue and two fur. At the end of the service everyone sang a hymn. Then we stood in line to shake hands with the minister. By then I was a pro at it. (p. 63)
A surprise visit from her maternal grandparents--who had disowned their daughter when she married a Jew and who had never met Margaret--prevents Margaret’s planned trip to visit her other grandmother in Florida, and wreaks havoc when the subject of religion is brought up:
“Margaret,” Grandmother said, touching my sleeve. “It’s not too late for you, dear. You’re still God’s child. Maybe while I’m visiting I could take you to church and talk to the minister. He might be able to straighten things out.”
“Stop it!” I hollered, jumping up. “All of you! Just stop it! I can’t stand another minute of listening to you. Who needs religion? Who! Not me . . . I don’t need it. I don’t even need God!” I ran out of the den and up to my room. (p. 134)
The next morning I stayed in my room. I wouldn’t even go down for breakfast. I caught myself starting to say, Are you there God, but then I remembered that I wasn’t talking to him anymore. I wondered if he would strike me down. Well, if he wanted to, that was his business! (p. 135)
In Margaret, Judy Blume had created a very sympathetic character. She’s a non-pedantic, non-judgmental everykid for a lot of young girls (and boys) who needed information, who were living through the same types of events that occurred in the book. She’s far from perfect—she picks on another girl in her class, based on untrue stories she’s heard about her through the grapevine—but her mistakes and her discomfort make her that much more human, and easy to relate to. Margaret does not decide what religion she should be by the end of her sixth grade year (and the end of the book), but she does finally get her period:
Are you still there God? It’s me, Margaret. I
know you’re still there God. I know you wouldn’t
have missed this for anything! Thank you God.
Thanks an awful lot . . . .