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. Blume’s characters dealt with divorce, death, family strife, religion, sex, bullying and peer pressure. But most of all Blume’s characters 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.”
Margaret 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. And poor Gretchen (spoiler alert); she was the last of Margaret’s coterie to get her period. The horror!
As for, those breast enhancing exercises where you chant, “We must, we must, we must increase our bust.” Well, they don’t work. You know I tried, okay!
I hope today’s girls like Margaret like I did. Sure, girls have Hermione Granger and Katniss Everdeen these days, but I also hope they have a Margaret Simon. Her appeal is enduring and universal, no matter what generation you got slid into.
Are you there, Judy? It’s me, Bookish Jen. Thank you.