Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

Introduction

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret is a 1970 book by Judy Blume, typically categorized as a young adult novel, about a sixth-grade girl who has grown up without a religious affiliation, due to her parents' interfaith marriage. The novel explores her quest for a single religion. Margaret also confronts typical issues faced by early adolescent girls going through puberty, such as buying her first bra, having her first period, and feeling attracted to certain boys. The novel has been frequently challenged since the 1980s due to its frank discussions of sexual and religious topics.[1][2][3][4]

Background

Judy Blume has said that the character of Margaret was inspired by her own experiences in sixth grade. Like Margaret, Blume did not physically mature at the same rate as her classmates, and tried exercises to get her bust to grow. Like Margaret, Blume also had "a very personal relationship with God". However, Blume said that Margaret's family life grew from Blume's imagination, as her own family was very different from the one portrayed in the book.[5]

Plot

Margaret Simon is just eleven going on twelve when her family moves from New York City to Farbrook, New Jersey. Margaret's mother is Christian and her father is Jewish. Margaret has been raised without an affiliation to either faith, and does not practice an organized religion, although she frequently prays to God in her own words, beginning by saying, "Are you there God? It's me, Margaret." She is beginning to feel uncomfortable with her lack of a religious affiliation. For a school assignment, she chooses to study people's religious beliefs, hoping to resolve the question of her own religion in the process. Part of her study involves attending different churches, to better understand religious practice and also to see if one of the churches might feel right for her.

Margaret befriends Nancy, a neighbor girl her own age who seems confident and knowledgeable about many subjects, including sex. Nancy, Margaret, and two other girls, Gretchen and Janie, form a secret club where they discuss subjects like boys, bras and periods. The girls anxiously await their first periods, prepare in advance by buying belted sanitary napkins (changed to adhesive pads in later editions of the book), and do exercises in hopes of increasing their bust measurements. Gretchen and Nancy begin to menstruate, causing Margaret to worry that she herself is abnormal for not having started yet. Margaret envies her classmate Laura Danker who, unlike herself, already has a womanly figure and, according to Nancy, is involved with a handsome older boy. Margaret is also attracted to a popular boy in her class named Philip Leroy and kisses him at a party while playing Two Minutes in the Closet (a game similar to Seven Minutes in Heaven). Over time, Margaret discovers that her seemingly confident friend Nancy has her own insecurities and doesn't always tell the truth (she had told Margaret she got her first period on a vacation before she really did later at a restaurant with her), which puts Margaret in several uncomfortable situations.

Margaret's exploration of religion leads to conflict with both sides of her family. She enjoys spending time with her Jewish paternal grandmother, who loves her as she is. However, when Margaret joins her at a synagogue on Rosh Hashanah in order to see what the Jewish faith entails, her grandmother begins to push Margaret to embrace Judaism, which frustrates Margaret as she feels that religion should not matter if she and her grandmother love each other. Margaret's fundamentalist Christian maternal grandparents, who have been estranged from her mother for 14 years due to their disapproval of interfaith marriage, suddenly decide to visit, but a family argument erupts over religion. In frustration, Margaret declares that she doesn't believe in God and rejects both parents' religions. She gives up on God and stops talking to him. At the end of her study project, she has not been able to resolve her religious situation as she had hoped, but has learned about herself and become more comfortable with her lack of affiliation. She then gets her first period and, relieved and happy, resumes her previous relationship with God, saying, "I know you're there God. I know you wouldn't have missed this for anything! Thank you God. Thanks an awful lot…"

Main characters
  • Margaret Simon: The protagonist of the book. She is an only child going through puberty and beginning to notice boys, and she is uncertain of which religion she prefers to follow.
  • Barbara (Hutchins) Simon : Margaret's Christian mother, who is a housewife and likes to paint.
  • Herbert Simon: Margaret's Jewish father, who is an insurance salesman.
  • Sylvia Simon: Herbert's mother and Margaret's grandmother. She refers to Margaret as "my Margaret." She wants Margaret to embrace Judaism.
  • Nancy Wheeler: Margaret's neighbor and her first new friend in Farbrook, New Jersey.
  • Gretchen Potter: A friend of Nancy's whose father is a doctor, and who is a member of the Four PTS's.
  • Janie Loomis: Another girl in the Four PTS's with Nancy, Gretchen, and Margaret. She is the last of the four to get her period.
  • Evan Wheeler: Nancy's older brother.
  • Moose Freed: Evan's friend, whom Margaret takes a great interest in.
  • Miles J. Benedict Jr.: Margaret's sixth-grade teacher, who is in his first teaching job.
  • Laura Danker: A classmate of Margaret's who is tall and very developed for her age.
  • Phillip Leroy: A classmate of Margaret's whom she initially likes.
  • Mary and Paul Hutchins: Barbara's fundamentalist Christian parents, who disown her for interfaith marriage. They want Margaret to embrace Christianity.
Awards

In 2010, the book was placed on Time's list of the top 100 fiction books written in English since 1923. The magazine wrote, "Blume turned millions of pre-teens into readers. She did it by asking the right questions—and avoiding pat, easy answers."[6]

Censorship

Starting in the 1980s, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret became a frequent target of challenges, often due to its discussions of sex or allegations that it contained profane or anti-Christian material.[1][3] On the American Library Association (ALA) list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of the 1990s, the book was number 60,[7] and on the ALA's list for the 2000s, it ranked at 99.[8]

Subsequent book

Blume's success with Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret inspired her to write another book, Then Again, Maybe I Won't, from a boy's perspective. This novel deals with Tony Miglione, a boy of the same age as Margaret who is dealing with puberty as well, although his transition from childhood to adulthood is quite different from Margaret's.

References
  1. ^ a b "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret". deletecensorship.org. Half Price Books. 2014. Archived from the original on 2016-06-28. Retrieved 2016-11-30. 
  2. ^ "Most Frequently Challenged Authors of the 21st Century". ALA.org. American Library Association. Archived from the original on 2016-09-05. Retrieved 2016-11-30. 
  3. ^ a b Blume, Judy. "Judy Blume on the Web: Judy Blume Talks About Censorship". judyblume.com. Judy Blume. Archived from the original on 2013-12-01. Retrieved 2016-11-30. 
  4. ^ Knox, Emily J.M. (2015). Book Banning in 21st-Century America. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. p. vii. ISBN 9781442231689. 
  5. ^ Blume, Judy. "Judy Blume on the Web: Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret". judyblume.com. Judy Blume. Archived from the original on 2013-11-26. Retrieved 2016-11-30. 
  6. ^ Grossman, Lev (6 January 2010). "All Time 100 Novels". Time Magazine. Retrieved 21 January 2015. 
  7. ^ "100 Most Frequently Challenged Books: 1990–1999". ALA.org. American Library Association. Archived from the original on 2016-11-13. Retrieved 2016-12-18. 
  8. ^ "Top 100 Banned/ Challenged Books: 2000-2009". ALA.org. American Library Association. Archived from the original on 2016-12-13. Retrieved 2016-12-18. 
External links
  • Judy Blume's website
  • Works by or about Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. in libraries (WorldCat catalog)

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