Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret Review

wpid-img_20150207_131346.jpgWhen I mentioned at the weekend that I would be having a look back at some vintage classics, starting with a couple of Judy Blume‘s best known works, my news feed came alive with nostalgic comments.

A lot of my friends remembered the books fondly and it made me feel even more excited about hunkering down with some familiar characters over a cup of tea.

I wanted to read Forever first but in the end decided to save it until after I’d revisited Margaret. I’m glad I did that, for reasons I will come back to in the Forever review (spoiler alert: it’s still quite saucy!).

But to this book. I love it still and the thing that stood out most for me is the fact that the writing is really good. I have to confess that I half expected to be taking the piss out of the books that I was so into as a kid/teenager but there wasn’t a trace of that as soon as I picked them both up.

AYTGIMM follows 11 year old Margaret Simon as she navigates her way through a new school, new friends, a secret club, periods, boobs and boys. Written from her point of view, we learn some of the secrets that she doesn’t care to share with her friends, such as her true feelings for Moose, the boy who cuts the grass, and how much she really wants to get her period.

Margaret’s core group comprises Nancy Wheeler, Gretchen Potter and Janie Loomis. Together they form the Four PTSs (Pre-teen Sensations) who meet every Monday to pore over their boy books, talk about periods and do their boob enhancing exercises.

All my life it seems I have been semi-aware of the “I must, I  must, I must increase my bust” mantra and it comes from this book. It may have been a thing way before it was set to paper but this is where I picked it up. Yes, I did do it myself (and look at me now!). It was very pleasing to get the warm and fuzzies whilst remembering it.

Despite her intimate circle, every night Margaret chats with the one person (or entity) who will listen to her no matter what. But when she starts to question religion on a deeper level and it brings up issues she doesn’t like, their relationship becomes strained. Will Margaret continue to turn to G-O-D or with they grow apart forever?

I thought that the religion thing was actually quite inspired. Margaret is brought up in a similar way to how my brother and I were; encouraged to choose her own faith when she feels ready. Margaret’s father is Jewish, while her mother is Christian so Margaret decides to give each a fair crack before she commits to one of religion, if at all.

I won’t go into it too much, but it’s quite refreshing to think that this topic was approached head on and then handled in such a sensitive way. I’m impressed with the diplomatic way it raises questions but doesn’t veer in any one direction.

Margaret also shares a close relationship with her grandmother, Sylvia. Keen to convert her granddaughter to Judaism, Sylvia nicknames her “Jewish Girl” which just adds pressure to Margaret as she tries to work out which way she should turn, biblically (or Torah-ly).

Blume also addresses the subject of slut shaming, although I am confident that this was not a phrase back when I was 11, even if it was definitely a thing.

Poor Laura Denker is labelled a bit of a goer (my words) because she is tall and well-developed for her age. She is  the subject of much bitching (but mostly envy) within the secret club, who have heard rumours about her getting felt up behind the bike sheds (or the US equivalent, the bleachers?) by Nancy’s brother, Evan and the aforementioned, Moose.

But the main topic on all the girls’ minds is of course, puberty. The girls do focus a lot of attention on boys, mainly Phillip Leroy, the class fitty but that’s nothing compared to the massive amount of time they all spend fretting about growing up, finally getting their periods and proving that they are normal.

I remember so vividly how I used to feel before the Big P came along, how much I wanted to get it and kick start womanhood. It’s nice to be reminded of the girl I used to be, who still pops up her head every now and again, who sometimes has the same worries she used to about the way she looks.

Ah, the simpler days.

(Incidentally, on the day I finally got my period, I was running indoors and banged my head, cutting it open. That day I bled from both ends, proof you should be careful what you wish for. Although, as compensation, we did get fish and chips for supper).

All in all, I adored my trip down Memory Lane. Judy Blume did so well because she understood, and was able to convey what it’s like to be this age. In 2010, Margaret was placed on Time magazines Top 100 fiction books written in English since 1923 list:  ″Blume turned millions of pre-teens into readers. She did it by asking the right questions—and avoiding pat, easy answers.″ (via Wikipedia).

Which sums it up better than anything. She just gets it.

Julian-Montague--Are-you-there-God--It-s-me--Margaret
Cover by Julian Montague

The question to answer, I suppose, is does the book hold up? I think so. I mean, I’m 25 years older than the main protagonist so the things I worry about now are somewhat different to then. However, from a nostalgic point of view, I can remember those feelings of inadequacy and pressure like they were yesterday.

I like to be reminded of who I was and of being that age. I also wonder if there is that much difference between being (nearly) 12 years old back when I was 12, or indeed back when AYTGIMM was first published in 1970 (over 40 years ago), and being 12 now. I would imagine, at the centre of it they have the same worries with a lot more besides.

I think my generation are lucky they didn’t have to grow up in the digital age. Nobody had a phone of their own until the very early naughties (or I definitely didn’t) and MySpace was just about the most exciting thing happening on the web, which was still dial-up and patchy at best.

I can only imagine what this book would be like if it were rewritten in today’s setting. A hell of a lot more slut shaming, a bit of internet trolling and a lot of distracted tweeting, rather than two minutes in the closet, I’d bet.

I’m sure I’d still love it though.

Book details:

 Next up: Forever by Judy Blume.

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