Tuesday, 9 July 2019

#CBR11 Book 38: "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret" by Judy Blume

Page count: 160 pages
Rating: 3 stars

#CBR11 Bingo: Banned/Challenged (has been on the list among the most banned/challenged books for several decades now)

Margaret Simon, almost twelve, has just moved from New York City to the suburbs, and she’s anxious to fit in with her new friends. When she’s asked to join a secret club she jumps at the chance. But when the girls start talking about boys, bras, and getting their first periods, Margaret starts to wonder if she’s normal. There are some things about growing up that are hard for her to about, even with her friends. Lucky for Margaret, she’s got someone else to confide in . . . someone who always listens.

Eleven-year-old Margaret moves to the New Jersey suburbs with her parents and is very worried about fitting in. She misses her colourful grandmother and the things she's used to in New York City. Nevertheless, she seems to make friends quickly enough, but is slightly worried when asked about what church she goes to. Margaret's parents don't believe in God. Her paternal grandmother is Jewish, her maternal grandparents (who the family is estranged from) are Christian, but Margaret's parents don't seem to hold with any religion, and it makes Margaret confused and questioning. She keeps talking to God, pretty much using her one-sided conversations like a sort of journal, and asking questions, not really sure if he's up there somewhere or not.

Margaret and three of her new friends form a secret club, where they are mostly concerned with talking about boys, chanting mantras to get their chests to grow and worry a lot about menstruation and what it will be like when one of them gets it. They have a lot of rules (like you can't wear socks with shoes - that way blisters lie) and gossip about other girls in their year (often very unfairly). It all seems pretty standard pre-teen stuff, especially in how much they talk about things they really know very little about.

Margaret spends much of the book questioning a lot of things and desperately wanting to start puberty. As someone who developed fairly early, I would probably have been more like some of the girls Margaret and her friends gossiped about (if I hadn't been so very nerdy and completely unnoticed by any boys). I do remember being super curious about having your period, and both wanting and dreading its arrival. It's really quite sad how much time and energy young women over the years seem to have expended on wishing for something that is a literal and figurative pain, when they should instead be thanking their lucky stars for as long as they can remain free of it.

This book is older than I am, and seems to have been controversial for a long time. It's appeared on the list of banned and challenged books for decades (I'm assuming both for its questions about religion, and its frank depiction of menstruation and how to deal with it) and I suspect that if I'd read it when I was closer to Margaret's age, rather than nearly forty years old, it would have made a lot more of an impact on me. As it was, I kept waiting for Margaret to get a clue about her judgy so-called friends an realise what a good thing she had with her supportive parents and cool paternal grandmother. I should probably read more Judy Blume, but I fear I'm far from the target audience anymore.

Judging a book by its cover: This isn't a particularly exciting cover, and it has very little to do with anything the book is actually about. Yes, Margaret is searching for answers and questioning things, but this isn't a romance, where she's risking her heart, so I'm not sure why the cover model is holding a paper one. A bit too generically YA here, and not great.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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