My Life In Books: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

Everything changes when one hits puberty. The grown-ups do tell you this – but no one, at 10 years old, can fully comprehend how much is going to change in the next couple of years. The physical, psychological, mental and emotional changes that you experience in just a few short years are completely overwhelming. No wonder teenagers get a bit stroppy.

The enduring popularity of Judy Blume is that her books are there to help you through the Hell that is puberty – because her characters are going through what you are going through, and you feel she understands. Unlike all other grown ups, who of course couldn’t ever have been young enough to experience puberty…

Grade 6 was the year that this book made the rounds amongst all the girls in my class. It was also the year all the boys had to leave the room while the girls had to watch the film about periods. A bit late in the day, in my opinion, but maybe things have changed nowadays. Nevertheless, this book is as relevant now as it was then, to girls on the brink of puberty.

Margaret is coming up to 12 when she moves to a new city with her parents. An only child of parents who eloped, because one was Jewish and one was Christian and her grandparents did not approve of the match, she has grown up without any particular religious doctrine. But as she hits puberty, part of the process of discovering who she is involves exploring the concept of God.

Margaret and her friends start a club where they talk about boys. They practise kissing on posters. They are all anxious to start their periods – no one wants to be the last to experience this formal passage into womanhood. They all go off to buy their first bras, and worry about not having anything to fill them. And Margaret talks to God about all of her worries – things she feels she can’t talk to anyone else about.

The wonderful thing about this book is that it demonstrates that 12-year-old girls really haven’t changed at all in the generations since it was written. I identified with it because at 11/12 I worried about the same things Margaret did. I’m sure I wasn’t the only girl who decided to try out the exercise that Margaret and her friends engage in to improve the chest muscles – holed up in the bedroom, pulling my arms back vigorously, chanting “I must, I must, I must imcrease my bust” as the characters in the book did. I really should have looked at the long line of generously endowed women in my mother’s family and realised that genes would take care of this problem for me, with a little patience. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, and the anxieties of the adolescent seem like the end of the world at the time, even though in the grand scheme of things these problems are pretty trivial.

The only thing that dates this book is the fact that the sanitary towels Margaret buys in secret to practise using, so that when she has need of them she’ll know what to do, are the kind with loops attached to a belt around one’s waist, which haven’t been available for many years now.

Judy Blume said she wrote this based on many of her own experiences and feelings in adolescence. They resounded with me as a pre-teen, and I have no doubt that they still resound with today’s pre-teenage girls. Sometimes I feel old when I see today’s teens. But sometimes, books like this serve to remind me that some things don’t change at all.

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