Discuss how Are You There God? is a bildungsroman, or coming-of-age novel.
A bildungsroman tells the story of a young person growing into his or her own skin and discovering what it means to be mature, and Are You There God? details exactly this situation from the perspective of Margaret Simon. Readers watch as Margaret traverses her road to becoming a woman; she buys her first bra, has her first kiss, and gets her first period. But the most important changes involve Margaret's mindset. At the end of the novel, she accepts that the things she wants will come with time and patience, and understands that she cannot rush adulthood. This nuanced psychological angle is truly what a coming-of-age novel is about.
What does Margaret ultimately decide about religion, and how does she come to this conclusion?
Throughout the novel, Margaret assumes that she needs to make a decision between Christianity and Judaism in order to fit in with everyone else. She tries going to church, to temple, and even to confession, but in none of these places does she feel the connection with God that everyone had talked about. Eventually, she decides that right now, religion does not have to be an important part of her life; she can't rush a decision as important as this one. The pressure both from her maternal grandparents and from Sylvia decides this for her; Margaret's quote "As long as she loves me and I love her, what difference does religion make?" sums this mentality up nicely.
What influence do Margaret's three close friends have on her in the novel?
Because Margaret is new to town, she looks to Nancy, Gretchen, and Janie, her three new friends, to discover how she should behave and who she's supposed to be. Because of this, these friends play a profound role in shaping Margaret's identity throughout her sixth grade year. By far the most powerful influence is Nancy, who has a very commanding and informative role within Margaret's circle of closest comrades. Margaret begins listening to Nancy's advice immediately, when Nancy tells her not to wear socks with her loafers on the first day of school. Margaret very often feels the need to conform to what her friends are doing, but this tendency trickles away by the end of the novel as she begins to feel more comfortable in her own skin.
How would this story be different if it were told from another character's point of view?
Undoubtedly, many key elements of this story would have been preserved had the story been told from the point of view of one of Margaret's peers, since they all are experiencing the new world of adolescence in roughly similar ways. However, Margaret's struggle with religion truly sets her apart from all the other sixth-graders; particularly during the time period when the novel is set (the 1970s), it wasn't common for a child to grow up without a religion, so this aspect of the story is unique to Margaret. It was important for Blume to add this extra dimension to make Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret more than just a typical novel about adolescence.
How would Margaret's experiences be different if she were a young girl growing up in the present day? How would they be similar?
The timelessness of this novel has kept it popular since its publication, since things like bras, boys, and periods are things adolescent girls worry about all the time, from generation to generation. Some things, however, would have been different if Margaret's story were set in present-day society; for one, she probably would not have had as much pressure to choose a religion as she did then. In our own time, more and more parents are choosing not to raise their children in a specific religion, and marriage between people of different religions occurs much more than it once did.
Why is Laura Danker such an important character in this novel?
Appearance-wise, Laura Danker is everything Margaret and the other girls want to be, but as a result, Laura is treated poorly. It was important for Bloom to include a character who illustrates the devastating results of jealousy, rumors, and simply being different, even in relatively small ways. Laura taught Margaret an important lesson: rumors are rarely true. Rather than let something she hears about someone influence her opinion of them, Margaret learns to get to know others first, without forming preconceptions. Laura is clearly not what everyone makes her out to be, but Margaret had never given her a chance.
Because he is their teacher, the sixth grade children obviously learn a lot from Mr. Benedict. Conversely, what does he learn from them?
Being a brand-new teacher can be daunting, but Mr. Benedict was clearly suited to the job. Though the sixth-graders tested him at first, he was quick to shut rebellion down and eventually gains their respect. Mr. Benedict learns a lot from his very first class of students, including when to be strict, when to be compassionate, and when to be a little of both. He learns that all of his students are different, and comes to know each of them better through their yearlong individual projects. Mr. Benedict is a prime example of the truth that a teacher can learn just as much from his students as they do from him.
Was Sylvia truly too much of an influence on Margaret? Why or why not?
Considering the authoritarian manner in which Mrs. Simon's parents reacted to their daughter marrying a Jewish man, it is understandable that Margaret's parents felt that, as Margaret got older, Sylvia would become too much of an influence. But in reality, Sylvia was an essential figure in Margaret's childhood; she provided not only care, but also the kind of friendship and support that an only child sometimes has difficulty receiving. While she sometimes made comments that pressured Margaret into choosing Judaism, Sylvia was never overbearing or forceful. Having at least one grandparent was important for a child like Margaret, and Sylvia filled that role wonderfully.
Do you think it was right for Margaret to keep Nancy's secret? Why or why not?
During her outing with Nancy in New York City, Margaret made a wise decision to push away her feelings of betrayal and instead be a good friend. It would have been easy for Margaret to let her emotions get away with her; after all, if Nancy had been lying about her period, what else could she have been lying about? But in forgiving Nancy and agreeing to keep her secret, Margaret made a very adult decision that ultimately paid off in the long run. A tiny deception is not worth losing a best friend over.
Did Margaret's move from New York City to New Jersey help her or hinder her in the long run?
Though shifting from urban to suburban life is undoubtedly a huge change, Margaret handled this transition gracefully, and ultimately emerged a better and more well-rounded person. As a private school student and an only child with an extremely doting grandmother, Margaret lived a sheltered life, and her physical move from one place to another also represents a symbolic shift: the beginning of Margaret's growth and maturity. Though the peer pressures she finds in her new town and at the public school are certainly overbearing at times, these forces teach Margaret many valuable lessons. Out in New Jersey, Margaret is better able to understand herself and to come to terms with what she wants from her family.