Over the course of my life, I’ve read this book countless times. First in elementary school, and then in middle school, and now, as a twenty-six-year-old woman, the book never fails to impress me. Originally I had rated this book four stars, but given the fact that still, all these years later, I could not bring myself to put it down, I raised my rating to a full five stars.
Margaret is eleven years old, and she’s just moved from New York City to Farbrook, New Jersey. Raised by parents who think Margaret should decide for herself what religion she wants to follow, she struggles to fit in with kids who either belong to the Y or the Jewish Community Center. In the midst of her religious struggle, Margaret also struggles with puberty. Why hasn’t she started her period yet? Why isn’t her chest growing? Why can’t she be like Laura Dacker, who is fully developed and has surely started her period?
I think every young girl should read this book. You’d be hard-pressed to find an eleven-year-old girl who hasn’t worried about how she’s developing in comparison with her peers. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret has been challenged in schools and libraries across the country since its publication in 1970, but in my opinion, it deals with Margaret’s concerns in an age-appropriate way. Growing up, I never thought any part of it was lewd or offensive, and I feel the same now as an adult.
Do Margaret and her friends sneak a copy of her father’s Playboy to examine the centerfold? Yes, and that’s a normal thing that happens. (I remember sitting at the lunch table in sixth grade and discussing a friend’s older brother’s obsession with the magazine.) Does Margaret stuff her bra to feel better about herself? Yes, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Are Margaret’s male classmates all jerks? Yes, and nearly every eleven-year-old boy I’ve ever met is, too. (A note to all eleven-year-olds out there: Most boys will get nicer as they get older.)
One of the topics that didn’t hit me as much as a young girl was Margaret’s struggle with religion. When I first read this book, I could not relate. I was Catholic, born and raised, all sacraments complete. The first time I read this book, I attended church at least twice each week – once with my mother on Sunday, and every Tuesday with my grade school class. (Sometimes, when my grandmother was watching me, we also “attended” a televised mass, and other times, we would walk the seven blocks to her church and attend a third or fourth “real mass.”) Not only was I the picture-perfect Catholic child, but in my area of northern Wisconsin, literally everyone was. There was no discussion of what religion you were. You were Catholic. My town didn’t have any temples or mosques or synagogues, and I didn’t meet anybody who wasn’t Catholic until I was in high school. Even then, Catholicism was still the majority. Now, living in a much more diverse area of New Jersey and not having attended mass in about six years (except for weddings, funerals, and christenings), I can relate to Margaret’s struggle to define what she believes.
This book is a classic. My copy is from 1991 and still contains references to the dreaded “belt” (I remember being very concerned about what kind of belt I was supposed to be wearing, and wondering why I’d never heard of this contraption before), but aside from that, the boy-girl parties, the school dances, and Margaret’s questions are timeless. (And, anyway, I have read that the newer editions have been updated to include adhesive pads instead.)
I would be happy to share this book with my future children to help them come to terms with exactly what’s happening as they grow older.
Final rating: ★★★★★