A while back Marshmallow reviewed Blubber by Judy Blume. Today she reviews another classic by Blume: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, first published in 1970. Sprinkles is asking questions and taking notes.
Sprinkles: So Marshmallow, let us start at the beginning. Who do you think would appreciate this book?
Marshmallow: I think girls who are approaching adolescence and may have some concerns about growing up might find this book relatable. Also if you liked other books by Judy Blume, I think you would definitely like this too.
S: That is a good start. Okay, more specifically, tell us now about the plot.
M: Margaret is this girl who just moved to New Jersey. And she is starting a new school and she makes a new friend named Nancy Wheeler —
S: This Nancy Wheeler?
M: Yeah, no. Not the Nancy from Stranger Things. Though she is also a girl who is living in a suburb with her family and wants to fit in and so on.
S: Okay, so let us get back to Margaret.
M: Yes, so Margaret’s dad was raised Jewish and her mom was raised Christian, but their families did not approve so they eloped and did not dictate a religion on their daughter. And when she lived in New York, nobody seemed to be perplexed by this, but here in her new school, her friends seem to want her to choose to belong to one or the other community.
S: And she is talking to God all through the book, right? Which God is this one?
M: Well, it is definitely a personal God, and Margaret shares her concerns, fears, hopes, and desires with Him. but through the book, we see her not making a specific choice. Her new teacher, Mr. Benedict, wants each student in her sixth grade class to pick a topic that is personally important to them and spend time that whole year to research it. Margaret chooses religion, hoping that through the year, she will try to figure out whether she should be Christian or Jewish. Remember both her grandparents are religious, but the Christian ones, her maternal grandparents cut off their relationship with them. Margaret does have a close relationship with her father’s mother, Sylvia, who encourages her to explore her Jewish heritage.
S: So the book is partially about Margaret exploring religion. But it is also a lot about growing up, right?
M: Right. Margaret’s new friends are obsessed with their growing bodies, and wearing bras, and boys, and so on, and Margaret does not yet feel like she is that interested in any of these things, but she wants to fit in, and so she ends up sharing their obsessions. Which was kind of weird to me, actually, because this is not quite how the girls in my school have been acting.
S: But maybe some of the girls in your school, too, might be interested in these kinds of things. Not all bunnies are like you and your friends, Marshmallow.
M: Well, I did not mean to sound like I am all so much more mature…
S: You are a pretty mature young bunny. But when I was growing up, there were a lot of girls like Nancy and her friends, and I feel like a lot of girls must have sympathized with the characters of the book for this book to have become such an iconic book.
M: Yes. It might also be that they felt like they should act like Nancy but they were actually feeling like Margaret who is not quite there. And eventually she does start obsessing about similar things.
S: The desire to fit in is often very strong. Especially among teens and tweens, but more generally it seems to be pretty common.
S: So this book was iconic, but it was also banned in many places. Did you know that?
M: Yes, I did. It talks about menstruation and so on, which some people claimed were not appropriate. But also it talks about religion and how it is okay if you do not pick between Christianity or Judaism, and how there might be other ways to finding spirituality in your life. This probably came across as anti-religion to some very religious folks.
S: Well, maybe today we are a bit more open-minded about these things. And the United States is a lot more diverse today in terms of people’s religious affiliations.
M: Yes, Margaret said, for example, that she was not considering Islam or Buddhism because she did not know anyone from those religions.
S: But there are people from a few other religions in your class, right?
S: So we have come a long way from the 70s in that regard.
M: I hope so!
S: Okay, did you like Margaret as a character?
M: She is okay, she is very genuine, and kind of bland, she does not have a very big and sharp personality, and maybe that is intentional because the reader can fill in the gaps and more easily identify with her.
S: That makes sense to me.
M: There is also a girl in the school who has already grown up in terms of her body, and all the other people think she is sticking out. They make up rumors about her, they gossip about her, and they are pretty mean.
S: That is not good.
M: I think they are jealous. And I don’t think the girl does anything to deserve it.
S: Middle school can be a cruel place.
M: Well, they are in sixth grade but I guess that is middle school in some places.
S: Yep. So we got a hold of this book because there is a new movie about it. Do you think we should see it?
M: Yes. The trailer looks fun. Can we put a link to it here?
S: Sure, let us embed it right now:
S: Do the characters look the way you visualized them?
M: Not quite, but I think they are close enough.
S: So we should try and watch it then. Okay, how would you rate this book?
M: I’d rate it 95%.
S: Sounds good. And what do you want to tell our readers as we wrap things up?
M: Stay tuned for more amazing book reviews from the book bunnies!