Judy Blume, Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970)

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?

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6 thoughts on “Judy Blume, Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970)

  1. I did read this as a kid and loved it. I loved Judy Blume in general. She did/does tread on taboo subjects, at least at the time the books were written. There is so much in Blume’s books that parents just don’t talk about with kids that to read them was both scary and exhilarating.

  2. I also read this as a kid, several times. It was one of my favorites and it definitely spoke to my 11-13 year-old soul. I was interested in the info on sex, definitely, but I was also intrigued with Margaret’s exploration of religion since I was raised in a strictly Lutheran household and never had the chance to look at Judaism or even Catholicism. I was kind of jealous of her religious freedom, as it were, to check out what was on offer.

    I’d be very curious to see what I think of the book now, as an adult. Did you find it overly simple?

  3. I read it too when I was young and I loved it – loved ALL of her books. I remember hearing about them and just waiting to be old enough to read them. Because she was talking about things no one else was talking about…periods, boobs, etc…it really felt like she spoke to my concerns at the time. And also, her books had a lot of humor in them.

  4. I read through every Judy Blume that had been published when I was a kid, because she was kind of “mandatory reading” amongst girls of a certain age. I was not, however, as enamored of her as all my friends were. I found most of her stuff to be quite depressing, and when I was that age, depressing was not what I wanted. To some degree, maybe the books were somewhat lost on me, because my mother was very open and honest and talked to me about ANYthing I questioned, and Blume’s books often seemed to be written for “younger kids,” even though I knew they were meant for kids my age at the time I read them. I was much more into things like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

  5. Stefanie- I can understand how a young girl can fall for Blume’s friendly voice. She sure can write in the way girls that age think (at least, as I remember from my times)

    Verbivore- no it was not overly simple. Just very gentle and nice, which made me wonder if pre-teens now are always so “innocent”

    Courtney – yes, I enjoyed the humor all the more as an adult!

    Emily -I have to check this Tree in Brooklyn (I see it’s on a lot of wishlists on bookmooch, I might have to wait a while). I didn’t find it really depressing, but I can understand that her open ending might be a letdown for some young girls. And also, if her subject was not taboo to you, it takes off most of the attraction, right?

  6. Pingback: Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943) « Smithereens

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