Sunday, March 14, 2010

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Genre: YA fiction
Published: Originally 1970, this edition edited and republished 2001
Source: Library
Review: 3.5/5 stars

Warning! **This review contains spoilers**
I remember reading this when I was about 12. I thought that if my mom knew what this book was about she'd be mad that I was reading it. I also remember it being much worse than it actually is. I could have sworn there was something about m**turbation in it (must be in some other book I guiltily read in my growing up years), but there was nary a hint of such things. I was so pleasantly surprised that I quite enjoyed reading this book and thought that I would pass it on to my daughter who will be going through the Maturation Seminar in her 5th grade class later on this month. Now as I'm thinking about it, though, there are a few things that I wouldn't want my 10 1/2 year-old reading about. I didn't like them talking about the older boys "feeling" Laura Danker (the tall early-developing girl in the class). I especially didn't like the way they talked about the teacher, Mr. Benedict, staring at her. That wasn't really the case, from my perspective, but one of the girls sensationalized things and put distorted thoughts into her friends heads. Actually, now that I think about it, anything that came out of Nancy's mouth, I didn't like. I hope my daughter doesn't have any friends like her.

The other part that I didn't care for is the treatment of religion. This idea that you let a child choose their religion when they grow up doesn't make any sense to me. It's too late by then. I could be wrong but it seems like it would be a rare thing for someone to grow up with no religious influence and then, when grown, decide that they will now welcome religion in their life. On another side, it bugged me that two of the few very religious people in the book were shown to actually be total jerks.

Now, having thought through all this, I think I will give this book to my daughter to read next year when she's in the sixth grade and then discuss it with her when she's done. I think that could be a good experience for both of us.

Rating: 2.1.1 I gave this a two on the sexual content because I think there are some underlying sexual tones that a parent should be aware of.


Suey said...

I remember reading this at about the same age and feeling a little guilty too, but not too much! :) I have a fifth grader too, but I agree, I probably won't let her read it quite yet.

Amelia said...

Hi Kim--I just wanted to say a quick "thank you" for such an insightful review! I wasn't allowed to read this book until I was like 16 or whatever, and even then I really didn't like it, mainly for the same reasons that you mentioned. I totally agree with you on the religious aspects, too :) It really annoys me when "religious" characters are portrayed to be stupid/jerks, but unfortunately that's a trend you see a lot these days...
Anyway, great review, great site!

Laura H said...

Yep I remember reading a lot of her books and that they had naughty stuff in them. I need to re-read them before I let my kids read them.

Jeanna said...

Hi Kim, Julie J's SIL here.

I could have sworn that book had more than one episode of m*****bation in it. I wonder if they edited it out of this version? So strange! Thanks for the updated review. I really dig YAL.

Kim said...

Jeanna--So I'm not going crazy! They must have changed it. I'm gonna find and older version and see what the real differences are. It's definitely something parents should be aware of.

Suey--Yeah, I think 5th grade is a little early for this one.

Amelia--Thanks so much. I agree that religious people are portrayed as stupid or jerks everywhere these days. It's sad.

Laura--I think I finally gave up on Judy Blume books when I read Forever. That was the first book I ever read with teenagers having sex and it shocked me. I had read about adults having sex but I really didn't like teenagers doing it. I still don't and try to avoid it.

melissa @ 1lbr said...

You know, I've never read this book. I don't think I even knew it existed until I was in college. So much for knowing about the "naughty" books in elementary school :)

Julie J. said...

I read this in 4th or 5th grade and totally felt naughty. I had always wished I hadn't.

Anonymous said...

I never read this book as a child because my mom wasn't too keen on me reading it. I might give it a shot now that I know it's pretty good!

Ricky said...

I normally wouldn't ask this outright, but I really must know: why doesn't it make sense for your child to choose their religion when they grow up? You would say that you try your best to raise your daughter to be an upstanding citizen who is thoughtful and reasonable, correct? Now, I think you are absolutely right in thinking that it would be rare for someone to suddenly welcome religion in their life having never been involved in it before. This is because most children are taught to use reason. Personally, I have thoroughly researched various religions in search of something that I feel reflects my morals. Guess what? They all do. I don't believe I need a Bible, or a Qur'an, or a Veda, to tell me right from wrong... Surprisingly, people are capable of making good decisions and being humanitarians without religious influence.

Also (assuming your family is religious), a different perspective on religion is important in order to challenge existing views that have been expressed at church. Because believe me, there are some despicable Christians in the world, just as there are despicable Muslims, Hindus, atheists et al. You wouldn't want your children to be biased, would you?

Kim said...

Ricky, thank you for your thoughtful comments and questions. I’m sorry it’s taken so long for me to reply but I’ve really put some thought into this and wanted to truly convey my feelings on this subject

Religion for me isn't just a means to teach my children to be good people and upstanding citizens. I believe that God has a plan for all of us, that we lived with him before we were born on this earth and that we'll one day return to live with him if we've lived according to his commandments. Part of that is making covenants with Him and committing to keep His commandments. Since I truly believe this I would never let my children grow up without teaching them as much as I can about the gospel and guiding them toward making covenants (like baptism) just as I have.

In this book the parents have different religions and I know that this happens all the time. I don't believe that either of them really have conviction in their religions or they wouldn't choose to let their daughter have no religious influence. If they were each truly converted to their religion they would continue to practice their faith and involve their daughter as much as they are able. That may mean taking turns each week or in this case with a Jew and a Christian it would be easy; go to synagogue on Saturday and church on Sunday. But these parents don't seem to have any true conviction so they decided on this policy for their family. The grandparents on both sides are religious and they all feel that their child and grandchild are lost to them. Religion binds families. In my faith (I’m a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints—also known as LDS or Mormon Church) we believe that when a couple is married in one of our sacred temples, they are sealed together which means that they and their children can be a family in the eternities. Other religions don’t have this same ordinance but they do believe in a life after this one and they want their children to go to the same place (heaven) after their life here.

I do understand your point of view, that religion helps us to lead good, moral lives but to many people it is much more than that. As for having a bias, I hope that my children will grow up learning to respect all people, all religions and to base any judgements they make on an individual’s behavior and not on their race, religion, or any other affiliation.

Again, I’m sorry my answer has taken me so long to post and I hope that you have come back to read it. I’d be happy to answer any other questions you may have.

Heather O. said...

Stumbled on here from Gerbera Daisies. I remember feeling guilty about this book, too, but the masturbation was in Judy Blume's book Deenie. Yeah, took me a while to figure out what the heck she was talking about, reading it, as I did, in 4th grade. As I remember, Are You There God has a lot of stuff about breasts and menstration. I'll have to re-read it as an adult, to see how my perspective has changed.

Anonymous said...

I like this book! As much as I agree with the fact that this book is mature, it is a great book, and shows girls issues they might have to deal with. I don't understand how this book is connected to so much controversy. It opens the door to subjects that they will face someday, so as much as the parent wants to hang on to the little girl their daughter is, they shouldn't ban a book because it mentions "feeling up".

Lori said...

Sadly, that book was Deenie (as mentioned) and I unwittingly allowed my 11 year old to read as it was in the children's section at our library. Glad to see you blogging!

Ing said...

I am SO happy to see a review of this book that isn't praising it as some kind of "break through" or "must read" for preteen girls! I think that this is truly one of the most over-rated books for tweens and teens. My review of the book offers a different take on it,and I know you didn't trash the book like I did, but at least you are the frist person not to praise it as the preteen's bible! Thank you for your website! It is great!