Book review: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

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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: ★★★★★

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Top Ten Tuesday: Best of 2016

Happy Top Ten Tuesday!  It’s already the last one of 2016!  Today’s theme is the best of 2016.  I read a lot of great books this year, so rather than agonize over which ones to include, I’m using this as a general overview of my favorites.  In early 2017, I’ll have a more detailed list available for you, broken down by genre.

Below are Goodreads links for all titles included in the graphics:

[since you’ve been gone] [koreatown] [are you there god? it’s me margaret]
[what we saw] [the unexpected everything] [lured in] [you know me well]
[me before you] [some kind of perfect] [made you up]

What were your favorites of 2016?

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As a child and young teen, Judy Blume’s books were some of my favorites. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret totally defined my childhood. I read and re-read it until it literally fell apart. Her other books – the Fudge series, Freckle Juice, Blubber, and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, to name just a few – sat on my grandma’s bookshelf waiting for me whenever I visited. So when I saw that she’d written a new book (finally! after all these years!) and it was available for request on Goodreads, I jumped at the chance. Imagine my excitement when I actually won! I ran through the halls of my office telling everyone I’d just won a free advance copy of Judy Blume’s new book. (Nobody knew who she was, but that’s a sad story for another day.)

I have to admit, it took me awhile to get into in this one. There are an awful lot of characters, and there’s an awful lot going on. We start with a plane crash in Elizabeth, NJ. A horrible event, but not one that’s likely repeated, right? Wrong – it happens twice more in the same town over the next few months. Three plane crashes, all changing the characters in different ways.

In the midst of it all, we have Miri’s coming of age story. This is where the book shines, as expected, since this is what Judy Blume is known for. Out of all the characters, Miri stands out as the best developed, the most interesting, and the most relatable. Even while dealing with the aftermath of three local plane crashes, Miri also has to navigate her first love, her best friend’s mental health issues, and her single mother jumping back into the dating pool.

Although it takes awhile to gain momentum, it’s worth it to slog through the first few chapters for another glimpse into Judy Blume’s mind. After all, the book is based on true events from her childhood. Knowing that there’s probably a lot of Judy Blume’s own experiences in Miri makes the book that much more touching.

I’d highly recommend In the Unlikely Event, because even after all these years, Judy Blume’s still got it. 

Final rating: ★★★★☆

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #19: a book based on a true story.

And here we have the top three books I read in May 2015!

Just a Little Kiss | Renita Pizzitola: I’ve loved all of the books I’ve read by Renita Pizzitola, so it’s no surprise that Just a Little Kiss is on my list of May favorites.  There’s something about her books that feels so lifelike.  This one made me wish that I lived in that tiny beach town and could find someone like Mason.

In the Unlikely Event | Judy Blume: Even after all these years, Judy Blume still has it.  I haven’t posted a review for this gem yet, mostly because I’m still trying to sort out my thoughts.  One quick thing – as someone who lives in New Jersey and has been to Elizabeth several times, it was so weird and also cool to read a book set there.

Beauty Queens | Libba Bray: Put this one on top of my favorite books of all time list.  Libba Bray can do no wrong in my mind, and Beauty Queens is yet another awesome story, just as I’d expect from her.  Somehow she manages to be hilarious while also surreptitiously educating teenage girls on the importance of feminism.

Did any books you read last month stand out?

I am freaking out just a little bit that I won a free copy of JUDY BLUME’S new book!  Judy Blume defined my childhood – I read Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret so many times that my copy literally started to fall apart.

I’m so excited to read her new book!  Thanks, Goodreads!