Bibliophile reviews Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret

Author: Judy Blume
Year published: 1970

The Story:
12 year old Margaret Simon has conversations with God, but doesn’t belong to any religion, because her mother is Christian and her father Jewish and they want her to choose her religious orientation for herself. When she is given an assignment where she has to keep a journal about some self-chosen subject for the whole winter, she decides to investigate religion. She and her friends are getting to the age when boys are becoming exiting, and they are all looking forward to the moment they will start to menstruate. Basically, religion and budding sexuality are the main themes of the book, along with friendship and prejudice.

Technique and plot:
I decided to read this story mostly because it is among the most banned or challenged books in the USA and has been since it was first published. It seems to have been challenged mostly for it’s portrayal of budding sexuality, but probably also for the controversial religious content – Margaret believes in God, but can’t decide which religion she wants to belong to. So we can blame both prudes and religious fanatics for trying to ban it.

This is clearly a story for adolescent girls. It is obviously meant to educate as well as to entertain, and to make them think, especially about religion and about prejudice, religious and otherwise. It is very open about those subjects and about sexuality, about belonging and friendship, and the cruelty as well as the joys of growing up. It doesn’t dumb things down, although obviously the vocabulary is appropriate to the age group, and it doesn’t make the heroine an angel - Margaret has her faults like everyone, and she is more real for it.

I found the story so innocent in comparison to some of the books I read as a child and teenager that it’s just funny. It makes me wonder how those clamouring for it to be banned would have reacted to Comrade Jesus by Sven Wernström, where Jesus is portrayed as a Communist type rebel and Mary Magdalene as his girlfriend. But then I grew up (and still live) in Europe, where things are more liberal than in the USA. (That’s not to say books haven’t been banned here in the past but they had to be a lot more explicit than this).

Rating: A well plotted and well written, very honest look at adolescence and its problems. Recommended for girls aged 8-14.

P.S. I read the old version of the book. When preparing the book for reading by a new generation, Blume updated it, so that girls who have never seen or heard of a menstrual belt – whose mothers may not even be familiar with them – would not be stumped when it came to those passages in the book. The belts were replaced with modern stick-on sanitary pads, which makes sense to me, but seems to have put a bee in the bonnet of some who read and loved the original version as girls.


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