11-year-old Margaret Simon is fairly sure that deodorant is unnecessary until at least the age of twelve, when the advent of body odour will also shoo in periods, bras and with any luck, first kisses. As if looming adolescence wasn’t taking up enough of her waking thoughts, Margaret is also caught in a whirl of moving house, changing school and wondering if she’ll fit into this new suburban world. 50 years since publication, the candid and perceptive Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret byJudy Blume remains the quintessential pre-teen read.
Margaret’s initial anxieties about making friends are soothed when she is warmly welcomed by a bunch of neighbourhood girls and inducted into their secret club but she is conscious of being a misfit, of the atheist kind.
In this suburban American community religious affiliation is expected, the kids attending either Sunday or Hebrew school because ‘…everybody belongs to one or the other.’ Except Margaret really doesn’t. Painful family history has led to her parents renouncing religion and consequently she’s been brought up without it. Margaret’s comforting secret is that she envisions God as her personal nonsectarian friend, communing with this higher invisible power every night from her bed.
‘Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret. I just told my mother I want a bra.’
A helpful way of working things through in her head, Margaret shares the tribulations of life with her god, and the list is substantial, from periods, school tests and boys, to the inevitable family tensions, particularly with her sometimes overbearing mother, whose estrangement from her own parents is pivotal to the story.
I loved this book as an 11-year-old, and rereading it now, I’m struck by the warmth, humour and candour of Judy Blume’s writing. Inevitably dated in places, her themes of identity, relationships, and the striving for independence remain timeless.
Fans will be delighted to learn that there is (finally) a film adaptation in the pipeline.
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret byJudy Blume is published by MacMillan’s Children’s Books, 176 pages.