This book is apparently a young adult classics in the US, but surprisingly (or not), its fame hasn’t really crossed the Atlantic (as far as I know).
As the title kept showing up here and there in blogs, especially in lists of “most challenged and banned books”, I got interested to know what it was all about. The notion that you can challenge or ban a library book in the US was totally foreign to me, and highly disturbing. Perhaps some books don’t make it to the shelves in Europe, but as the selection process for books is quite opaque, reasons why you do or don’t get the books you wish are unknown to me.
Anyway, as I started reading, I loved the fresh tone and gimlet-eyed view of the embarrassments of pre-teens. Margaret is not yet 12, and her world is all about school, best girlfriends and growing up. This last part entails getting her period, growing enough bust to wear a bra, and getting interested in boys. I have read that Judy Blume was known to tread on taboos, and these didn’t look like taboos to me, but I’ve reminded myself how as a 12-year-old I could blush just thinking about boys and how the entire class nervously giggled whenever the teacher said something with the word “bust”. Anyway, to me Margaret and her friends were quite polite and proper, and weren’t as aware of sex subjects as I’d read in reviews.
So, if not for sex, what is the contentious subject? God himself, or better said, the need to choose a religion. Soon enough, I understood why the book was (is) challenged. Margaret’s father is Jewish and her mother is Christian, but because their marriage has raised a violent opposition among their parents, Margaret has been raised in a non-religious environment. She doesn’t go to Sunday school nor to the temple, and as a pre-teen whose foremost wish is to be like her peers, it’s a major embarrassment.
She decides to investigate and “try out” religions during a yearlong personal school project. But her project doesn’t lead to any mystical revelation. Instead, she’s torn between adults who each want her to adopt their own beliefs. Her grandparents even challenge the notion that you can choose a religion, instead she should be born in one or the other. I appreciated the open ending a lot.
I could totally relate to Margaret’s uncertainty, having been raised myself in a non-religious family. But in Europe religion and spirituality aren’t as central as in the US in most people’s lives. There’s no such big choice between going to the Y or the Jewish community centre. Most kids have been baptized Catholics but don’t go to church, so the whole book would flop over here.
I’m grateful for discovering this pleasant book and a slice of American culture. Have you read this book as a child? Did you like it at the time?