Margaret Simon, who is 11 years old, has always lived in an apartment with her family in New York City. Now, though, her family is moving to the New York area suburb of Farbrook, New Jersey, where Margaret's dad can still commute to Manhattan for work and where Margaret's mom can have all the "grass, trees, and flowers she ever wanted."
Margaret thinks that her parents left the city because her paternal grandmother, Sylvia Simon, has had too much of an influence on her. As an only child, Margaret has always been quite spoiled by her grandmother. Since Sylvia doesn't like public transportation and doesn't own a car, Margaret guesses she won't be seeing much of her doting grandparent.
Soon after the Simons move in, a neighbor Margaret's age, Nancy Wheeler, comes to visit their new house and invites Margaret over to play in the sprinklers. Margaret can't find her bathing suit and borrows one of Nancy's, but she's embarrassed to change in front of Nancy because her chest hasn't begun to grow yet. She feels underdeveloped and self-conscious, until Nancy asks Margaret if she's ever kissed a boy and admits that she hasn't. Nancy is obsessed with growing up, and keeps a drawer full of makeup that she intends to wear in public in the future, but simply tests out for the time being.
Margaret then meets Nancy's mother, who hopes that Margaret's mother will be active in local organizations, including a carpool to Sunday School. Margaret, however, doesn't attend Sunday school; since her mother is Christian and her father is Jewish, Margaret has not been raised with a particular religion, and is instead expected to choose her own once she's old enough. The two girls go outside to run around in the sprinklers, but Nancy's older brother Evan turns the water on full blast, drenching Margaret and Nancy. Margaret also meets Evan's friend Moose, who offers to cut the Simons' lawn.
Later that night, Margaret talks to God about her new home. Though she isn't formally religious, she has a very personal relationship with God and often talks to God when she's alone.
Determined to do his own yardwork, Margaret's father initially turns down Moose's offer, but after an awful accident with a new lawnmower, he decides to give the work to Moose after all. It also turns out that the doctor who treats the injured Mr. Simon has a daughter Margaret's age. Then, the day before school starts, Margaret's grandma suddenly appears at the house in New Jersey, laden down with food for Labor Day. Margaret's parents aren't especially thrilled with this appearance; for her part, Sylvia tells Margaret that they'll still be as close as ever, even though Margaret has moved away from the city.
These first three chapters serve primarily to introduce us to Margaret's life and to set up the essential background information for her later adventures. The setting—the suburb of Farbrook, New Jersey—is efficiently established. Many of the major characters, including the members of Margaret's family and Margaret's new neighbors, are revealed, and we gain insight into their lives and personalities based on how they act in these few chapters. We learn that Nancy tries to be sophisticated and grown-up, that her mother is very involved with life in the neighborhood, that Margaret's grandmother spoils her, and that Margaret's parents disapprove of Sylvia's constant involvement. Much is revealed through small conflicts and quick reactions.
Blume's decision to begin her story with these events seems especially natural, since Margaret herself is experiencing a beginning, too. We're not simply thrown into her world in the middle of great drama; her story opens as she moves to a new place, so we as readers are learning all about her new home and new surroundings as well. Margaret does not have to spend time explaining everything; new events unfold for us exactly as they unfold for Margaret. This is one of the many reasons why readers feel such a connection to Margaret: we can get inside her mind and share her brand-new experiences.
Although Blume's novel has not dwelled much on the subject of religion just yet, it is important to keep religions matters in mind as we read on. Even the basics will be important later: Margaret's mother is Christian, her father is Jewish, and yet she hasn't been raised in any religion at all. Her grandmother, who dotes on her and gives her huge helpings of attention, subtly pressures her towards Judaism.
Nonetheless, Margaret is supposed to decide for herself what she wants to be, if anything—it's a monumental decision, a lot to think about for someone who's just entering sixth grade. Remember the theme of religion while reading on, because (as both the title and these few chapters indicate) it will play a major role in the rest of this novel.