This is a classic young adult novel for girls of a certain age. I rather doubt that the fellows will be able to relate to it very well because it's all about being a girl hitting puberty, and not just the often awkward physical changes that come with that "wonderful" time of life. I first read this book when I was eleven years old. A lot of memories came flooding back to me listening to the audiobook version at the impossibly ancient age of 54.
The book is told from the perspective of Margaret, a likable eleven-year-old girl who is worried about appearing normal, about when her body will develop, and about what religion she should have if any. Margaret's father, Herb, is Jewish, and her mother, Barbara, was raised in a Fundamentalist Christian household. Barbara's parents disowned her when she married Herb. When Margaret was born, Herb and Barbara decided to raise her without any specific religion and to let her decide for herself as she grows up.
Margaret prays to God, asking for divine intervention in the issues that matter most to her. Her conversations with the Almighty serve to reveal her character and motivations.
When Margaret's family moves from New York to a suburb in New Jersey, she becomes friends with Nancy Wheeler, Gretchen Potter, and Janie Loomis. Together, the girls form a club called the PTS's or Pre-Teen Sensations. They make pacts with one another to buy bras, reveal when they get their periods, and keep a book listing the names of boys they like.
Although there are discussions of sexual issues as the girls speculate what the precocious Laura Danker supposedly does with boys behind the local store. The girls jealously assume that Laura, who has a more developed body than they do, must be promiscuous.
During the course of the book, Margaret learns that most people are imperfect and that one should not listen to rumors or make judgments about others based on the way they look.
As a woman of a certain age who became a girl of a certain age in the mid-1970s, I can completely relate to the girls' feelings regarding the way menstruation was fairly well made into one long commercial by the books and films given to schools for sex education programs. These films and books were made by companies which sold sanitary products.
I can also relate to the fact that no-one tells the girls about how periods feel. I was informed that it "doesn't hurt" and feels "sort of like peeing." While every girl's experience is different, there was no warning for me about the debilitating cramps and extremely heavy bleeding which would be my companion every three weeks for forty years to come, and I do believe I still feel rather salty about that. At least in the United States, there was an attempt to remove the stigma of "being unclean" from menstruation, but it was still shrouded in a certain degree of mystery and was not addressed in an entirely straightforward and realistic fashion.
I will always love Judy Blume for the way she wrote her characters to seem like real girls, some being the kind one would want for a friend and some being the kind who try very hard to appear to be better than anyone else, often while hiding their own insecurities.
In some ways, it's disheartening to me to realize that we really have not come very far in regards to projecting the idea that only certain types of bodies are good onto girls. There is still a pervasive idea that only the "Playboy body" or the fashion model body are good bodies. When Gretchen gets her period, she is admonished by her mother that she now needs to be more careful than ever about what she eats because she "gained too much weight" over the summer. The seeds of an eating disorder are planted every day by mothers who obsess on the ideal of thinness at all costs and project this obsession onto their daughters. This is a problem that has not changed for the better in the nearly fifty years since this book was published.
"Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret" is a timeless story for girls, including girls who are now closer to Margaret's grandmother's age than to Margaret's. While the story isn't very relatable for boys, it might give them some insight into what it feels like to be a girl. I recommend it not only for girls reaching puberty, but for fathers, brothers, and male friends of girls reaching puberty. Judy Blume did a remarkable job of looking into the minds and hearts of pre-teen girls.
My review for Audible:
I first read this classic story when I was 11 years old in 1976. Listening to it again now that I'm closer to Margaret's grandmother's age than to Margaret's, I remember all too well the insecurities of being a girl reaching puberty. I related very closely to Margaret's thoughts and feelings, the worries about whether I was "normal" or not (in my case, the answer is a definite 'no'), the fear that I wasn't developing in the "right" way, worries about what boys thought of me, and speculations about religion.
Unlike Margaret, my religion was decided for me. I was raised Catholic. However, she and I had conversations with God in common.
Throughout the course of the book, Margaret learns to take neither people nor rumors about people at face value. She also learns that most people have insecurities, and some of them will go to great lengths to hide theirs.
Sadly, not much has changed in the nearly 50 years since this book was first published regarding social issues such as girls believing that beauty falls within a very narrow range and that only the "Playboy" body type of the fashion model body type is acceptable. Girls are taught early on to obsess about their weight and to attack rather than support each other.
I am not sure if sex education has improved much in regards to menstruation. In the United States during the 1970s, there was a push to get away from the archaic idea that menstruation was "dirty". However, I fully related to the girls' cynicism regarding the presentation given by the lady in the gray suit. Information about menstruation seemed like one long commercial for period products.
I was glad to reunite with my childhood friend Margaret. I listened to this book in one afternoon and remembered the girl I once was. I've always been a bit hard on her. An old favorite story reminds me to treat her with a little more compassion. The compass she was given was broken. She did the best she could.
By the way, I hope that Margaret's life turned out wonderfully. I would love to read about her adventures as a lady of a certain age.