Next on my YA shelf:
The immortal Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume.
Now I just can NOT approve of the cover. I remember what the cover was when I had it as a kid. Or I sort of do – Here’s what I remember: It was a drawing of a girl, the cover itself was kind of a pale lemon yellow, Margaret was sitting at a vanity in front of a mirror – and … er … that’s it. But it was a drawing, not a goofy photograph. I can’t stand these under-designed stock-photo book covers nowadays. It’s fine for crap books but a book beloved by generations?? I should keep my eye open in second-hand bookstores for older copies of “Margaret” because the cover of my brand new one is plain old ikky.
Not much needs to be said about this book. Pretty much every woman who is in a certain age range, read this book as a kid, or I guess now they call them tweens (which I despise by the way. Tween? No. Stop it with the tween nonsense.) I read this book in 4th or 5th grade – and I remember how it rocked my world. It taught me what would happen. Now thanks to 4th and 5th grade, I did have basic sperm + egg education, I had learned about sex, and Mrs. Kahn had split up the class by gender – and had a private class with the girls where she told us all about menstruation. Which gave all of us a pretty bad couple of days, I’ll tell you that. Suddenly the girls in the class were EONS older than the boys. We were weighted down by our secret knowledge, our secret fear. We were going to BLEED. From our VAGINAS. For THIRTY TO FORTY YEARS. Uhm. Excuse me? You gotta be kidding me, right? Did it hurt? Was it like a CUT? How much blood? Do you have to just lie in bed? How do you stop it from coming out? Basically: WHAT THE FUCK???????????
We were secretly comforted that it would happen to all of us – and also, that it obviously had happened to our mothers, our babysitters, our teachers … everyone. Our teacher, standing up in front of the class, was a woman. So … at some point during the school year … did she teach a class while she had her period? Oh … so … you can still live your life … even though you are BLEEDING from your VAGINA … I had no older sister, remember – there were some girls in our class who were already hip to the whole period thing. I was not. My best friend J. was not. We would have these secret whispered conferences, very much like the ones in Are you there God – saying: “Okay, when you get it – you have to PROMISE me to tell me everything.” Etc. We even wrote a vow that we both signed: “I promise that when I get my period I will tell you everything. Signed: _____________.”
So anyway – into this void of anxiety (I thank God that I had sex ed in grade school – at least I knew what was coming!!) came Judy Blume and Margaret. Somehow – we all read it. This obviously was not a book read out loud to the class, or anything – but it spread like wildfire, and we all read it. There was a waiting list to take it out of the library. Which makes me laugh to think of. All of these little anxious girls, waiting to read a “first person” experience of this whole period thing.
And how I remember it is: Margaret moves to a new town. She is in sixth grade. She becomes friends with a couple of other girls, who are all much more … teenager-y than she – they all have bras, they are counting the days til they get their period, they can’t wait … it almost becomes like a competition – who’s gonna get it first? But on a surface level: the book tells you what it feels like, what to expect – from a girl who was “just like us”.
I recently bought the book again and re-read it. I haven’t read it since 4th grade. And it’s amazing how much MORE there is to the book. There’s so much going on: Margaret’s relationship to God, she talks to him every day – and it’s almost casual – like she always starts with “Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret.” There’s a lot of religion in the book, too. Margaret is Jewish – but it’s only a cultural Jewishness – they never go to synagogue, etc. Margaret’s new friends all go to either Sunday school or Hebrew school and Margaret feels left out, so she starts going around with her friends on every weekend – to either church or synagogue – to see which one she likes. Her parents are not wacky about this development – but she goes anyway. These are some pretty heavy issues for a kids book – but the great thing about Judy Blume is that she is all about the character. You just get into Margaret’s world and everything follows from there.
It’s also a great story showing the sometimes treacherous dealings of little girls. Nothing beats Cat’s Eye in that regard – NOTHING – but Margaret, in its own adolescent way, takes on the same topic. How mean little girls can be to each other.
Margaret is trying to grow up. She realizes that not being a “kid” anymore is really really hard. And yet she wants to get her period, and she wishes her boobs would grow – she is still completely flat, and it really really bums her out.
You know what? It’s a wonderful book, actually. I have re-confirmed my opinion about it by just re-reading it. People snicker about it, which – I don’t know. I just don’t like that. As though little girls getting their periods are somehow silly, or not a worthy topic for an author to take on. Judy Blume doesn’t stand above the experience – she gets right down on the level of the girls going thru it. The whole menstrutation thing has a lot of emotion attached to it – either you can’t wait for it to happen, or you dread it because you’re only 10 or 11 and you’re not ready to stop being a kid yet. What will it mean? How will it change me? The Margaret book helps lead the way.
So kudos, Judy Blume. Kudos for not just writing a great “issue book” but also writing a fun story. I enjoyed re-reading it as an adult.
From Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume.
After school we went straight to Nancy’s. Before we started our official meeting we talked about Mr. Benedict and his project. We all agreed it was crazy and none of us could think of a single idea.
Then Nancy called the role. “Veronica?”
“I’m here,” Gretchen said.
“I’m here,” Janie said.
“I’m here,” I said.
“And so am I … Alexandra.” Nancy closed the roll book. “Well, let’s get to it. We all feel each other’s backs to make sure we’re wearing our bras.”
We all were.
“What size did you get, Janie?” Gretchen asked.
“I got a Gro-Bra,” Janie said.
“Me too,” I said.
“Me too!” Gretchen laughed.
“Not me,” Nancy said, proudly. “Mine’s a thirty-two double A.”
We were all impressed.
“If you ever want to get out of those baby bras you have to exercise,” she told us.
“What kind of exercise?” Gretchen asked.
“Like this,” Nancy said. She made fists, bent her arms at the elbow and moved them back and forth, sticking her chest way out. She said, “I must — I must — I must increase my bust.” She said it over and over. We copied her movements and chanted with her. “We must – we must – we must increase our bust!”
“Good,” Nancy told us. “Do it thirty-five times a day and I promise you’ll see the results.”
“Now, for our Boy Books,” Gretchen said. “Is everybody ready?”
We put our Boy Books on the floor and Nancy picked them up, one at a time. She read each one and passed it around for the rest of us to see. Janie’s was first. She had sevevn names listed. Number one was Philip Leroy. Gretchen had four names. Number one was Philip Leroy. Nancy listed eighteen boys. I didn’t even know eighteen boys! And number one was Philip Leroy. When Nancy got to my Boy Book she choked on an ice cube from her glass of coke. When she stopped choking she read, “Number one — Philip Leroy.” Everybody giggled. “Number two — Jay Hassler. How come you picked him?”
I was getting mad. I mean, she didn’t ask the others why they liked this one or that one, so why should I have to tell? I raised my eyebrows at Nancy, then looked away. She got the message.
When we were through, Nancy opened her bedroom door. There were Evan and Moose, eavesdropping. They followed us down the stairs and outside. When Nancy said, “Get lost, we’re busy,” Evan and Moose burst out laughing.
They shouted, “We must — we must — we must increase our bust!” Then they fell on the grass and rolled over and over laughing so hard I hoped they would both wet their pants.