The first time I read Are You There God? It's Me Margaret, I was sitting on the floor of the young-adult section of my library. This was typical, but not because I lived in some weird town where the library couldn't afford chairs and no one was allowed to dance. I would kneel on the floor because I was "just looking, just for a second," but then I'd get wrapped up in a book and both my legs would fall asleep.
I remember being perplexed about a lot of things in this book when I read it at the time, mainly because I had the tendency to live my life like I was every lead character in every book. The real me didn't super care that I didn't have my period. But of course I made myself Margaret post-haste—immediately all, "Oh my god, I'm weird on two fronts: I don't have my period yet AND I forgot to freak out about it." My legs were basically dead to me, so I laid on the library floor to to mull it over. Also, I had no idea what a menstrual belt was.
Recent editions have been updated because pads with sticky undersides were invented, thank god. No one wants an extra period accessory.
In AYTGIMM, Judy Blume (may the odds be ever in her favor) introduces us to eleven-year-old Margaret Simon. Margaret has just undergone the ultimate bummer—moving from New York City to suburban Farbrook, New Jersey. Not that there's anything wrong with Jersey, but it is assumed that since the book was written in 1970, her new home probably looked like your grandma's house.
Margaret meets Nancy Wheeler, and becomes part of a four-girl secret club. The dynamics of the four-girl gang has never gone out of style, nor will it ever (see: Mean Girls' The Plastics, Grease's The Pink Ladies, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants' girls who wear the traveling pants... you get it). Margaret's version calls themselves the Pre-Teen Sensations. Basically, they're 11 but would just kill to pass for 13. It's all periods and boys and kissing and periods and bras and boys and periods. They're not really mean, except behind Laura Danker's back (tallest girl in class, biggest breasts).
Speaking of—let's give Laura Danker her moment in the sun. Back when I read this book (before I re-read it yesterday in a chair!), I had no boobs. Why was Laura Danker's life so hard? Couldn't relate. But when you're in sixth grade and you look more like the teachers than you do you the other kids, everything's kinda Denise Richards: It's Complicated. Be kind to the Laura Dankers of the world. They might just learn how to put on liquid liner before you do and could maybe one day teach you and also me. Then again, early boobage is in no way indicative of the steady hand so I just made that up. But I bet the Laura Danker of your class is nice. Unless she's not.
Margaret talks to God often (spoiler alert) and has a good thing going on with him even though her parents aren't into organized religion. But you know. People make her think about it. And that makes her feel weird about it. And that leads to the "Are you there God? It's me, Margaret: What religion am I? Let's lock this down. kthanksbai."
She wants to make sure she's "normal," which is the heart of the book. Puberty, religion … what's regular? Is she a freak? Not if she has her period. Not if she knows what religion box she fits into. I wish we could follow Margaret into adulthood, because unlike puberty (which happens to all of us), religion's arguably a more unique journey.
Finally, in a total WTF, BFF?! move, Nancy Wheeler lies about getting her period, which is not cool. If Margaret doesn't lay the smackdown, Nancy'll probably grow up to be the jerk lady in this commercial.
I like to think grown-up Margaret's laying the smackdown right now. Or maybe God. No! Future Nancy Wheeler's not dead. I just meant in a throwing lightning bolts from heaven kinda way.
Does AYTGIMM hold up? Yes and no. The specifics don't, of course. Not many sixth graders in 2012 go to boy/girl supper parties or wear velvet or are told that tampons are a form of "internal protection" that's discouraged until they're older.
But Judy Blume's the best (around. nothing's ever gonna bring her down.) because she gets how you feel/felt in your guts—and that's always timely. We've all worried about being left behind, or wished things we can't control would just hurry up already, or wanted our body and brain to catch up to each other. I still feel that way on the daily. Judy Blume, you get me. You. Get. Us.
Have you ever read any YA novels by Judy Blume? She was a pretty big deal back in the Sparkitors' day, but do you guys think she's old-fashioned?