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Book #15: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

Unspeakable things happen in a labor and delivery room. I’ve been there. I’ve seen it. With my eyes.

June 16, 2010 was the day my wife and I welcomed our first child into the world, a little boy. On that day, I was certain, absolutely certain, that I would never again–or at least until we have a second child–experience what it means to be a woman like that.  Lights. Voices. Blood. Fluids. Apparatuses. God only knows what else.

This whole giving birth thing is pretty intense, I thought.  I could never do that. Thank God for women.

So I thought I had pretty much experienced the essence of womanhood. But, oh no. Dear Lord, no. Thanks to Judy Blume’s epic tale, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, I learned that there’s much more to being a woman than childbirth.

Take this passage, for example:

“My mother showed me how to attach the pad to my underpants…”

“What’s it feel like?”

“Mostly I don’t feel anything. Sometimes it feels like it’s dripping. It doesn’t hurt coming out–but I had some cramps last night.”

“Bad ones?” Janie asked.

“Not bad. Just different.” Gretchen said. “Lower down and across my back.”

“Does it make you feel older?”

“Naturally,” Gretchen answered.

Judy Blume taught me more in those few lines than I ever really cared to know about all that stuff. And I’ll just use the word “stuff” because I really don’t know what else to call it.

But my squeamishness and manliness aside, Judy Blume seemed to capture everything it means to be a young girl in Are You There…Besides all the obvious physical stuff, Margaret is  searching for her identity in a new town, and she’s also searching for her faith.

I’ve got one question, though–do girls really talk about this stuff when they are in sixth grade? I mean, are they worried about stuffing their bras and starting their periods and flirting with the cutest boys at that age? Are young girls this upfront and outspoken about their sexuality? Was this really happening in the 1970s? Okay, maybe that was four questions.

All of this was news to me. Anyway, I could wrap this up by saying that Margaret finally got her period–she finished third out of her four girlfriends in the “Who gets your period first” race–but that wouldn’t be a true representation of this book.

As many blog commenters told me, this book is more than just a story about girl stuff. Blume goes deeper than that, as she portrays Margaret as a young girl trying to find her a faith. Margaret’s grandmother is Jewish, her best friend Nancy is Christian, and her parents aren’t involved in any religion.

She’s pulled in all sorts of directions, and her simple, honest prayers (that start with, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”) reveal a girl sincerely looking for something more.

Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. I’m going to temple today–with Grandma. It’s a holiday. I guess you know that. Well, my father thinks it’s a mistake and my mother thinks the whole idea is crazy, but I’m going anyway. I’m sure this will help me decide what to be. I’ve never been inside a temple or a church. I’ll look for you God.

The spiritual angle of Are You There…is really the glue that holds it together and makes it more than just a novelty act about a girl’s coming of age. It’s powerful in a sixth-grade kind of way.

The book is simple and easy to read, as expected. You won’t confuse Judy Blume’s writing with David Foster Wallace. But she does her job in writing an entertaining story for young girls.

However, I was rather surprised to see at least 4 or 5 typos in my version of the book. In a book that has sold more than 8 million copies worldwide, it’s shocking to see basic typos like “Norman” misspelled as “Noman” and “our” written as “out” (“…come to out table”) that haven’t been corrected in the nearly 40 years that Are You There…has been in print.

We all make our fair share of typos–that’s not the point. But how have these issues not been corrected after all this time? Just a few mistakes like that can give a book an unprofessional and low-budget feel, and it’s stunning to see so many in such a highly regarded book.

All in all, once I got past the feeling of being a creepy old dude while reading this book, I could see it for what it is and understand how it had such an impact on so many young girls.

Other Stuff

Opening Line: “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. We’re moving today. I’m so scared God. I’ve never lived anywhere but here.”

The Meaning: Can a girl get her period and find God in the same year? Absolutely!

Highlights: The spiritual angle of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is refreshing. Props to Judy Blume for going down that too-often unexplored path in literature. 

Lowlights: Two things: 1) I’m a guy. Much of this was not comfortable reading. 2) Too many typos in this book. After 40 years in print, how have they not been fixed?

Memorable Line: “I got it,” I told her.

Final Thoughts: I’m relieved to be able to check this book off the list. Honestly, it was deeper and less about girly stuff than I expected. But, still, there were too many uncomfortable passages for this 35-year-old dude. Nonetheless, it’s not about me, and Judy Blume shook up the pre-pubescent female world with Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Well done, Judy.

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55 Comments Post a comment
  1. writernubbin #

    I have never read this book! So, if you have the mettle to do it as part of your project, I guess I should do the honorable thing and go read it myself. Nice review!

    Like

    April 4, 2011
  2. Patti #

    I just started reading this with my 6th-grade daughter, who is indeed feeling overwhelmed by all that is going on with her body as she awaits her introduction to womanhood. A couple of weeks ago, I had to keep myself from giggling as this 11-year-old lifted her hands heavenward and said, “When you’re 6, you’re so carefree!”

    Like

    April 4, 2011
  3. In my experience, which was about 9 year ago, yes girls actually talk like that. When I was in sixth grade my best friend had already had a few “boyfriends” (if you could call them that); I was swearing more frequently, and I knew a lot of stuff about sexual acts (or sex in general) that I never experienced. Before I moved onto high school, a few girls had already been pregnant and had a child.

    But personally, I’m 21, and I’m still uncomfortable talking about these things (God help me if I ever have a daughter).

    Like

    April 4, 2011
  4. theveryhungrybookworm #

    I commend you for being so dedicated to your challenge that you took on, perhaps for you, the most challenging book. Trust me, you may have been uncomfortable reading it, but that discomfort is something that most girls live with for the awkward years of adolescence!

    Like

    April 4, 2011
  5. 1. Yes
    2. Yes
    3. Yes
    4. Yes
    Think about the stuff that you talked about as a boy in Grade Six. Seriously. Now remember that girls mature faster than boys, so raise it a couple of grades or so, to what you talked about with other guys in Grade 8 or 9. Ah, yes, now you remember, right? Which girls were “hot” and who liked whom. Some of it was downright sexual. You were comparing who was more developed, experienced, etc. I bet the topic of wet dreams came up.
    Girls own bodies force them to deal with realities at a very young age that they are not really ready for emotionally, and that is at the heart of Margaret’s angst. “Who am I? Did God make me this way? How do boys see me?” Being uncomfortable in our own skins is part of the female maturing process. More and more we every month girls are children in women’s bodies, and that creates a lot of anxiety.
    The discomfort you felt in reading this book actually mirrors the discomfort girls feel when dealing with their changing bodies. It is one heck of a shock to get a first period, or realize that breasts are growing where one’s flat chest used to be.
    Kudos to you for seeing the challenge through. It is terrific to know that one more man is a bit more enlightened about what we women have been through!
    Jodi

    Like

    April 4, 2011
    • I am indeed enlightened. Your comments are interesting. All of that is pretty scary if I ever have a daughter. We’ll let Mom handle that stuff!

      Like

      April 4, 2011
  6. Dear Lord! My anticipatory review was significantly less painful.

    List ticking aside, are you glad to have read this book? Or are you simply glad that “read” is past tense?

    Like

    April 4, 2011
    • I’m definitely glad it’s over, and, though I can appreciate the book, I never plan on revisiting it.

      Like

      April 4, 2011
      • Unless, of course, you have a daughter!

        Like

        April 5, 2011
      • Patti #

        Something you’ll appreciate – I’m reading Margaret with my daughter, and I was reading it while she ate dinner last night – we’ve gotten to the “good stuff” and when my husband joined us, he encouraged me to keep reading. It didn’t take long before he started to complain and say, “hey, I’m eating here!” but we countered with the comments that he knew full well what we were reading and said he wanted to join in, so we continued.

        Like

        April 8, 2011
  7. Amanda #

    I can remember having these conversations with my girlfriends starting in about the 5th grade. There was about a 4-5 year window where these are THE main topics of discussion. The importance of Judy Blume on YA novels cannot be underestimated – she let me know I was normal when I was too afraid to ask!

    Like

    April 4, 2011
    • Ditto the 5th grade and the number of years these were the main discussion points. Maybe the difference between guys and girls is because in the girls there are various OBVIOUS and SUDDEN pubescent markers than there are for boys? I was a late bloomer and this time in my life was downright stressful as heck.

      Like

      April 5, 2011
  8. Ditto jedwardswright on everything.

    I adored this book when I first read it… probably around 6th grade, maybe a little younger (I’m 31 now, so I can’t quite remember that first reading). Now, having taught middle schoolers, I think this is actually pretty tame and innocent compared to what is being talked about (and/or) done in plenty of middle schools. Believe it or not.

    Like

    April 4, 2011
  9. I am glad you did it and realized what this book meant for literature at the time. It was incredible for me, let me know it was OK to talk to God even if I wasn’t sure which church was best.

    Like

    April 4, 2011
  10. This seems a good book to study girls. ❤

    Like

    April 5, 2011
  11. IsThatYouDorothy? #

    I have rarely enjoyed reading a book review as much as I did this one. Despite the clear curbing of your enthusiasm for Judy Bloom (:) I am very much intending to read it myself. I reckon at the tender age of 39 and with three small boys in tow I will not profit from it as much as I would have back then (had I been able to speak English, too:), but you made it sound very much worth biting into. Thank you. Great blog.

    Like

    April 5, 2011
    • Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the review.

      Good luck with your own Judy Blume adventures.

      Like

      April 5, 2011
  12. IsThatYouDorothy? #

    Ooops, I meant Judy Blume, of course:)

    Like

    April 5, 2011
  13. Like so many of Judy’s other books, (Starring Sally J. Freeman as Herself, Superfudge, etc.) this book was a huge comfort to me as I made my way through adolescence. One thing I will never forget is the way in which she addressed God, and how much I identified with it. God is so big, so infinite, so beyond my adolescent life, that I often framed my own prayers the same way,

    “Are you there, God? It’s me, Bethany. XYZ happened to me today. Did you have anything to do with that?”

    I still have my copy sitting on a bookshelf at home. Maybe I should read it. It’s been awhile.

    Like

    April 11, 2011
  14. Ben #

    Reading it again. It is so entertaining.

    Like

    May 11, 2011
  15. Our summer reading list for the fourth grade had an extra book on it, just for the girls to read. I did not understand why and found it to be unfair, until I finished this book. My mother had yet to explain to me what my menstrual cycle was and would be like, so needless to say, I learned a lot from this book.

    As far as this being what girls in the sixth grade discuss, it is ALL that the girls in my class talked about. One by one, as girls “got it,” others would often be jealous.

    Like

    May 12, 2011
  16. This was definitely a big issue when you’re in 6th and 7th grade. I agree with Mutant Supermodel that maybe it’s because it’s so sudden and obvious. The chest part – everyone can see if it’s there (or not) and you’re not really sure which is worse – having them or not having them!

    If you do have a daughter, and you want mom to handle all this stuff, at least you should know enough about how awkward it is to not express to said daughter how it grosses you out 😉

    As to whether girls talk about this stuff, in 6th grade, and in the 70’s, I think they may even have talked about it MORE in the 70’s. The 70’s were a pretty changing time for sexuality, and in some ways, people were more open then than they are now. (At least, so I hear, since I wasn’t born ’til 1987, haha.)

    Like

    September 19, 2011
  17. ibrianna #

    a very good book i read it like 60 times no lie

    Like

    November 23, 2011
  18. I personally loved Judy Blume books growing up. I remember reading this one when I was in 4th or 5th grade. It hit home for me because I was going through getting my first period about that time. It might have been even sooner though, because I got mine first when I was only 9 years old. I always wanted to have girls, but was blessed with 3 boys instead. I am glad about that, as I am still uncomfortable talking about these things in public.

    Like

    December 18, 2012
  19. sf #

    Came across your blog on my suggested list. Very interesting! I had never heard of this book and how cool that it even has a Beverly Clearly cover style to it. Great review!

    Like

    January 29, 2014
    • sf #

      Oh, and I know what you mean about typos. I get so irked if I see even one.

      Like

      January 29, 2014
  20. This is a brilliant review. I agree with all of what you said. I loved that your a male adult, and still wanted to read this book. I have also reviewed this book, I would love for you to check it out!

    Like

    March 13, 2015

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