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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Book Review: Are You There God? It's Me Margaret by Judy Blume

Another book that completely holds up upon rereading! And not solely out of nostalgia. In fact, rereading this as an adult, I am surprised at how well told the story is, and at little details that I overlooked as a preteen.

Okay, it was totally hilarious to me as an adult (who is probably the same age as Margaret's parents) that one reason they moved is because of Margaret's grandmother. It's good that Margaret was smart enough to figure that out, and it sure did seem true. She seemed pretty mature to figure out that her grandmother, while loving and thoughtful, is also pushy and overbearing to her parents.

I too, like Margaret, had wanted a dressing table like Nancy's when I was a child, although I was never a particularly frilly girl. I remember Nancy's kissing practice making me worry - should I be doing that too? Was practicing on a pillow even remotely good preparation? Oh and the lawn mowing kid? I get that his nickname is Moose, but he says he's listed in the phone book. It would be pretty unusual for a 14-year-old boy to have his own listing back then, but also to be listed under Moose? I'm sure he had a real first name.

Now as a kid when I read this book, I went to Catholic school. Sure, most of my classmates were Catholic but kids I knew from elsewhere sure weren't (in Nashville, Catholics aren't common, neither are Jews.) In fact I remember I had to ask my Mom what a Jewish Community Center was (we belonged to the Knights of Columbus pool, so neither the YMCA nor the JCC.) But I did understand her wondering about religions, since we were surrounded by protestants of a wide variety. I really like what Margaret's mother told her: "My mother says God is a nice idea. He belongs to everybody."

It was kind of risky to give Margaret a male teacher I think. In fact, not good things are hinted at regarding Mr. Benedict and Laura Danker although they seem pretty untrue (as are all the rumors about poor Laura.) I'm glad Ms. Blume addressed concerns fairy directly with Mr. Benedict's questionnaire where he wanted kids to complete the sentence, "I think male teachers are..." He seems like an excellent teacher though.

I really wanted to be in a secret club at this age. I'll bet most preteens do. I was a little bit jealous that Margaret immediately got into a group of girls who seemed nice, as soon as she moved. I do wish the characters of Gretchen and Janie had been fleshed out a little more - Janie's main personality trait seems to be that she's short, and Gretchen doesn't even get that much. But it's a pretty minor quibble in an otherwise excellent book. And really with a friend like Nancy, I'll bet no one around her is allowed to have much personality or she'd smack it down. Now I like Nancy, but in addition to being dominating and bossy, she's also a tattle-tale and occasional liar.

As an adult, reading about Margaret's parents eloping against both their families' wishes is pretty dramatic. Her mother's family completely cutting them off is shocking. And from some of the comments made about them ("They want to see Margaret! To make sure she doesn't have horns!", you know it was a very fraught, contentious situation. It's interesting that Margaret's friends think the situation was "so romantic." In some ways it was, but it was also terrifying, gutsy, and sad. And when they do come visit, it's even more sad that after fourteen years, after completely missing their only grandchild's childhood, they can't not bring up religion, despite several pleas not to, and they ruin their visit, and any chance they had at a relationship with Margaret, and with Barbara, her mother. It's not outright stated, but you can be sure any future overtures would be met with even more skepticism after their behavior on this visit.

Of course when I was a preteen, the most important parts of this book were the parts that involved bras, spin the bottle, two minutes in the closet, and menstruation. Reading it now, those are secondary. It's just about a year in a young girl's life, dealing with a lot of changes, growing up, making friends, and fitting in. All these girls want is to be ordinary. Not even to be popular - just to be normal. Which is of course why all the rumors about Laura are so mean, and why Margaret doesn't realize how cruel her fight with Laura is when they're working on the Belgium report.

This book is so important to so many young girls for decades now, because it is so reassuring that everything they're going through is normal. Margaret has the additional worry about religion that most kids her age don't have, but that just makes her all the more identifiable. It's a powerful, meaningful, respectful book. I just about wore my copy out at this age.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend. Also this review is posted in honor of Banned Books Week, as sadly this is a frequently challenged book and has been for decades.

1 comment:

Julie P. said...

Fantastic review!!! I just re-read this book last year and was amazed by how much I missed as a young girl! It definitely stood the test of time in my opinion! Still loved it.