I first read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret when I was eleven. It was a revelation: a book about a girl just a little older than me getting her first bra, waiting for her period to arrive and asking God if he could maybe speed up this puberty thing a little bit. I’d never read a book that seemed to speak so directly to me before. And the amazing thing? All my friends felt the exact same way.
I say all my friends, but in actual fact I knew people whose mothers expressly forbade them from reading this book. Even now, I’m not sure why exactly - none of my friends were from especially religious families, and it’s not like you can keep the small matter of puberty a secret forever. Needless to say, a fair amount of lending went on. Lucky for me my mother limited her disapproval to the eye-rolling that accompanied any sighting of any Judy Blume book. Lucky, because this book is a rite of passage.
Since my original copy of Are You There God? was discarded many years ago, I recently purchased a brand new copy to reread. And by new, I mean all-new, updated, replacing-certain-references-that-tweens-today-wouldn’t-understand new. And you know what? The all-new me isn’t quite sure she likes the subtle changes in the updated version. I mean, I first read this book around two decades after it was originally published. To be honest, certain aspects were outdated then. Take the issue of sanitary belts. I had no clue was Blume was talking about on that one, and had to ask my mum for an explanation. Which I then refused to believe. Because ewww. In the updated version Margaret just buys regular pads like everyone else, which means that entire generations will miss out on ever knowing that sanitary belts once existed. (As well as the trip to the chemist with friends to investigate whether such things are still on sale. Which they are.)
It’s not all all-new though. The lady giving the ‘what every girl should know’ speech at Margaret’s school still acts like tampons are something the devil himself invented for women of ill-repute. And Margaret’s little gang of friends still wear loafers without socks as if that somehow elevates them above the status of the girls wearing their loafers with knee socks.
But what I really noticed this time around is that this isn’t just a book about getting your period. There’s much more to the storyline that I’d completely forgotten. Margaret is the daughter of a Christian mother and Jewish father. Since her mother’s parents didn’t approve of the marriage, Margaret’s parents had to elope, and decided that their family would be religion-free. Margaret will be able to choose her own religion when she grows up, but right now she’s facing pressure from the outside world to belong to one or the other. Aside from all the stress about puberty, Margaret is a girl who finds religion getting in the way of her relationship with God. Which is, actually, pretty tight. After all, she talks to him on a daily basis. It’s a story about growing up on every level – making choices and taking responsibility for your own actions.
Verdict: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is of those books that every girl should read. Preferably at the right time, which is probably that point when they’re stressing out about all the exact same stuff that Margaret is. I’d also recommend it to older readers looking for a nostalgic trip down memory lane. It’s pure gold.