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Revisiting 2011: Book #15: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

This week, I’m revisiting some of my favorite posts from 2011 while I take a one-week break from writing and simply focus on reading and spending time with my family. This post was originally published on April 4, 2011. 101 Books will return live on Monday January 2. See you then!

***

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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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Blair #

    This is a classic!

    Like

    December 30, 2011
  2. Jillian ♣ #

    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?

    Yes. 🙂

    I remember I started reading this one when I was around twelve, and I found it too disturbing to continue, if I remember right. I should get back to it…

    Like

    December 30, 2011
  3. Cate #

    I agree with Jillian, we did! 🙂

    I read this in fifth grade in 1980 (I hid it in my room because I pretty sure my mom wouldn’t want me to read it) and I loved it! It was the time in my life where my friends were starting to wear bras, begin their periods and notice boys for real. She captured a lot of the questions and feelings I had at the time. I loved her books because she doesn’t talk down to hear audience and it made me feel less weird when I saw parts of myself in her characters.

    Like

    December 30, 2011
  4. As the mother of a 10-yr old girl, these conversations happen as early as FIFTH grade! It was a big day when her best friend got a “training” bra and we all know who of her friends got her period first. She asks me all the time “will it hurt when I pee?” or “what happens if I get it at school?” At least girls now have some really great books to read that will assuage their fears.

    It’ll be a BIG day when it happens and I just hope she’s with me, rather than her Dad (we’re divorced and share custody) so I can get her through it.

    Like

    January 3, 2012
  5. Yes, we really do. I remember being so jealous of my best friend because she got her period first. Little did we know . . .

    Like

    January 4, 2012
  6. HAHA, Ms. Cooking Bride! Now we’ll just be jealous of who STOPS getting it (well, sort of, because that’s kind of depressing.)

    Like

    January 4, 2012

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