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

I’m taking my annual week-long summer hiatus this week, which means this is a “Best of 101 Books” week.  I’ll return live on Monday July 8.

Today’s post originally appeared on the blog on April 4, 2011.

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.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kudos to you for persevering. Typos are funny thing. I worked as a proofreader one year at a small, denominational press. Three of us were entrusted to discover typos on the galleys. Twice around. And once the books were in print, there was always at least one typo that we missed. After I left the place, though, I haven’t overlooked a single typo in any book I have read. It’s maddening, I tell you.


    July 2, 2013
  2. Yes Robert, this stuff did happen in the 1970S. Read this book with my friends . . . we were 12 at the time. Loved it !


    July 2, 2013
  3. I loved that book when I was young. It answered a lot of awkward questions for me. But at the same time, it raised just as many….


    July 2, 2013
  4. I Loved this book too, I just loved reading Judy Blume when I was younger!


    July 2, 2013
  5. elijahisflying #

    I read this book when I was 12 because my dad made me.

    My father felt it was necessary for his 12-year old son to read this for some reason…


    July 2, 2013
  6. Good for you for tackling that one! I remember reading it several times as a middle-schooler in the late-80’s. I could personally identify with a lot of the searching for spirituality, as I grew up in an atheist family surrounded by religion. I also remember using it as a guide, as my mother passed away when I was a child. I was never interested in stuffing my bra, though! Maybe I should read this one, again. Hope you’re enjoying your hiatus.


    July 2, 2013
  7. I think you’ve intrigued me enough to revisit this book….as a 30 year old gal, I remember the book as just full of that uncomfortable stuff (which happened to be useful as a tween). Perhaps there is more to it!

    High five for getting this one checked off your list!


    July 4, 2013

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