Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”
So it doesn’t surprise me at all that you’ve never enjoyed the sublime pleasures of this particular novel, given that you are a boy, and thus you probably spent your tween years reading boy books and not worrying about when you were going to get your period. But now that you are a man, I think you are exceptionally clever for wanting to discover what you missed. After all, Judy Blume novels were downright formative for young ladies of our generation. I can only imagine that knowing what happens in Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret is part of some Machivelllian tactic for understanding and thus wooing women, and a brilliant one, at that.
The titular Margaret is 11 years old, and has just moved from New York to the New Jersey suburbs because her parents wanted fresh air and a decrease in visits from Margaret’s overbearing Jewish grandmother. I wouldn’t mention the Jew thing except that religion dominates nearly every page of this book — see, Margaret’s dad is Jewish and her mother is Christian, which means that her mother’s family disowned her for marrying a Jew and Grandma keeps coming by the house with deli food. Oh, and also it means that Margaret has no religion. Which was apparently a big fucking deal in the 1970s. Wow am I glad to have been born a decade later. (I have nothing against religion, but plenty against being mocked for not having one.)
Before school starts, Margaret falls in with this girl Nancy, who’s like a crazy general of girl-dom, organizing a secret club that requires its members to wear bras they don’t need and loafers with no socks. She’s like the Saddam Hussein of the sixth grade, but more intense. But Margaret wants to be normal, so she does whatever Nancy says. I kinda want to write an unauthorized sequel to this book where an adult Margaret joins Scientology, perhaps to squash some unwanted lesbian tendencies. (A LOT of this book revolves around Margaret’s obsession with other girls’ boobs. I’m just saying.)
The book’s most iconic moment happens about here, by the way. Homework assignment for you, Frank: walk up to any girl between the ages of forty and twenty-five and chant “I must – I must -”. There’s a very strong chance that that girl replies with “I must increase my bust.” That’s right, Nancy has a chant to magically will boobs to get bigger. Maybe Saddam was the wrong comparison. Does the Reverend Moon have catchphases?
Margaret’s other obsession, the religion thing, flares up when her teacher assigns the class to do a report on something personal for them, and she figures that because she’s in between two religions, she can use this assignment as motivation to figure out which religion she wants to belong to. Not because she wants to further her spiritual growth, but because that way she’ll know if she should join the YMCA or the Jewish Community Center (Nancy and her underlings are very big on this issue).
Also, because she’s always talking to God, it’s a good fit. Yeah, the title of this book isn’t exactly figurative — it’s written in the first person, often framed as letters from Margaret to an unanswering God.
(And it JUST occurred to me why using the Liz Tells Frank format to discuss this book is post-modern and ironic. Frank, I’m usually much faster than this. Apologies. On the plus side, while Margaret’s own faith in God is often tenuous, I do completely believe that you exist. What with there being photographic evidence and everything.)
So Margaret isn’t too impressed by her trips to a Jewish temple, a Presbyterian church, and a Methodist church, though she does like the music at the latter. She isn’t too impressed by her first kiss with a boy during a game of Two Minutes In Heaven, even though the boy in question is #1 Class Heartthrob Philip Leroy. And she also isn’t too impressed with the official film strip they watch in school that explains “that time of the month when a girl isn’t at her best because she’s bleeding from her vagina.” Man, I’d forgotten how Always or some other company always sponsored those videos. Talk about pervasive product placement.
Conveniently enough, this is when one of Nancy’s bitches gets her period, and soon Nancy is claiming to have gotten it — though Margaret discovers this to be a lie when Nancy really gets it for the first time a few weeks later. Nancy is a manipulative genius, but a poor liar.
All this excitement over getting their periods comes in direct contradiction to the girls’ ostracizing of Laura Danker, The Girl Who Got Her Boobs First, and is thus considered a slut as a result — which was often a self-fulfilling prophecy, at least at my elementary school. Part of me sometimes wishes I’d been that girl, as being ostracized for having big tits sounds like a lot more fun than being ostracized because you can recite the names of Star Trek episodes.
Anyways, Margaret treats Laura like shit, just because Nancy does it, but between realizing what an asshole that makes her and the whole Nancy-lied-about-her-period thing, it seems like Nancy’s hold over Margaret is lessening. Not that that that makes Margaret be less of a bitch to Laura or anything, but whatever.
Oh, and then there’s dramarama because Margaret’s grandparents — the ones who disowned Margaret’s mom — decide to visit and after like five whole minutes of trying to play nice throw a shitstorm over Margaret not having religion. This makes Margaret want to break up with her BFF penpal God, but it doesn’t take. She turns in a letter to her teacher saying that religion is something you can’t pick super-easily, and then she gets her period and becomes a woman. THE END.
For the record, when I first read this book as a wee lass, it was the original edition where the girls had to wear the ultra-complicated belts that attached to their pads (a concept which terrified me to my core). But in the edition I read to write this for you, Frank, the book has been updated to modern menstrual pad technology — which boils down to “sticky stuff,” if you really wish to know.
And that’s a fitting note to end this TMI expose into the pre-adolescence of the human female. You now know everything you ever needed to know about women. Because like Margaret, most girls of a young age are struggling to define themselves amid the many confusing images and social tropes thrown their way. These days, though, I suspect they’re a lot less worried about Jesus — or the YMCA, at least.