Sunday, January 9, 2011

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret

by Judy Blume
Star Rating: 0 out of 4


A while ago I went on a children/YA book kick, trying to catch up on all the well-known and -loved stories I'd somehow missed. Overall, it was a positive experience; I read some I loved, some I liked, and some I was nyeh on but appreciated that they were surely wonderful in their time. But none that I actually hated. That is, until this one. Because as I was settling into bed early that night, I picked up Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret. I'd only meant to read a few chapters before slipping away into snoozeland, but once the horror began I couldn't stop until I'd seen it to the gory end.

This book is about three things. They are, in order of importance:

1) Religion,
2) Puberty, and
3) Peer pressure.

Plot synopsis: girl moves to new town and immediately is made a member of a "secret club" with 3 other girls who go to her new school. The function of this club is to chat about growing breasts, starting periods, and cute boys, because clearly 12-year-old girls have nothing more interesting to talk about. Don't get me wrong - I'm sure I talked about these things when I was 12 too - but I also talked about books and movies and nature and future plans, and so did all of my friends. There's absolutely no reason to paint so narrow a picture of tweenhood, unless...

a) You actually subscribe to the ridiculous idea that this IS all 12-year-old girls think/talk about -- in which case, you should not be writing a book for 12-year-old girls, because we don't want them similarly deluded
b) you are writing a MESSAGE book and this is part of the important MESSAGE -- in which case, barf.

This secret club also exerts a good deal of peer pressure on our young, stupid heroine, but by the end of the book she comes to realize that you can't believe everything you hear. How does she realize this? Because she insults the girl in class who's already developed breasts - clearly a heinous offense, despite all four of the other girls yearning after their own - and learns from Boob-Girl's reaction that she may have been wrong all along to judge her based on her rack. What a poignant lesson. What tolerance. I'm drowning in obvious here. But the entire book is this way - painfully obvious, preachy, and patronizing to the intelligence of YA readers everywhere. Maybe it could've been saved with a strong central character, but Margaret isn't sympathetic. She's whiny and trite and - I'll say it - plain dumb.

Then there's the religion. The girl's father was raised Jewish and the mother Christian, and both of them no longer subscribe to their religions, so they've decided to raise little Margaret without one. Yet she has to do a year-long project for school, so she decides to research religion as her theme. She goes around to alllllll the synagogues and churches she can find, only she's so unbelievably obtuse she can't perceive any difference between all of them, but the music sure is pretty. Enter Theme: All Religions Are Really The Same At Heart, So Why Can't We All Get Along? (This goes right along with the theme of Don't Judge People For Their Boobs.)

And anyway, Margaret prefers to pray to God her own way, by sending up pitiful little missives for him to pretty-please-with-syrup-on-top make her iddle-widdle breasts grow big and strong. The book culminates with a showdown with both sets of grandparents showing up and ruining Margaret's life by trying to force her into their particular religion. Finally, she can stand it no more -- she shouts that she just won't be ANY religion. Oh, the humanity. The wailing and tearing of hair. Observe my sobs.

The worst part of it is, when I railed to my housemate about it the next morning, he shrugged at me and opined that the book probably wasn't so far off the "normal" 12-year-old experience. I, he reminded me, cannot look to my own upbringing as an example of what most kids go through. And he's right, I can't. (I was homeschooled.) But what BS! What if some poor kid takes it as how things are supposed to be, that this is the right of it all, and so ladens herself with all these idiotic pressures and perspectives about what's "normal"? What's "normal" is NOT HAVING TO WORRY ABOUT CRAP YOU DON'T HAVE ANY CONTROL OVER LIKE BOOBS AND PERIODS, YOU STUPID LITTLE TWIT. How about THAT?

Hiss. Spit.


  1. I was not home schooled and I completely agree with you. Additionally, I love the snarky yet witty criticisms.

    your former roommate :-)


  3. I think you're missing the period aspects of the book. I haven't read it since I was a kid (in the 70's) and it wasn't my favorite, but it was pretty revolutionary for its time in a number of ways. The idea of depicting young girls as actually talking about their bodies and being concerned about them was a real departure from the YA literature of the time and a big relief to a lot of young women who wondered if they were the only ones. The religion question wasn't pertinent for me, but again, the idea of being able to move beyond your grandparents' religion and to make up your own mind about what you believe and to recognize that all religions have a lot in common were remarkably adult concepts to package for children, concepts that are still completely foreign in most parts of the world today.

    Lastly, I do think that being homeschooled probably affected your childhood in a lot of ways. Have you read Reviving Ophelia? It's basically about how interested, plucky, fun 8-10 year old girls become stunted and sexualized by our culture so that they become stunted, self-deprecating teens (I'm simplifying massively) by 12 or 13. I think it might give you a very interesting picture of what many girls are going through at that age and I'd be interested--if you do choose to read it at some point--on your thoughts about it.