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Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret is a 1970 book by Judy Blume, typically categorized as a young adult novel, about a sixth-grade girl who has grown up without a religious affiliation, due to her parents' interfaith marriage. The novel explores her quest for a single religion. Margaret also confronts typical issues faced by pre-teen girls going through puberty, such as buying her first bra, having her first period, and feeling attracted to certain boys. The novel has been frequently challenged since the 1980s due to its frank discussions of sexual and religious topics.
Judy Blume has said that the character of Margaret was inspired by her own experiences in sixth grade. Like Margaret, Blume did not physically mature at the same rate as her classmates, and tried exercises to get her bust to grow. Like Margaret, Blume also had "a very personal relationship with God". However, Blume said that Margaret's family life grew from Blume's imagination, as her own family was very different from the one portrayed in the book.
Margaret Simon is just turning twelve when her family moves from New York City to the New Jersey suburbs. Margaret's mother is Christian and her father is Jewish. Margaret has been raised without an affiliation to either faith, and does not practice an organized religion, although she frequently prays to God in her own words, beginning by saying, "Are you there God? It's me, Margaret." She is beginning to feel uncomfortable with her lack of a religious affiliation. For a school assignment, she chooses to study people's religious beliefs, hoping to resolve the question of her own religion in the process. Part of her study involves attending different churches, to better understand religious practice and also to see if one of the churches might feel right for her.
Margaret befriends Nancy, a neighbor girl her own age who seems confident and knowledgeable about many subjects, including sex. Nancy, Margaret, and two other girls, Gretchen and Janie, form a secret club where they discuss subjects like boys, bras and periods. The girls anxiously await their first periods, prepare in advance by buying belted sanitary napkins (changed to adhesive pads in later editions of the book), and do exercises in hopes of increasing their bust measurements. Gretchen and Nancy begin to menstruate, causing Margaret to worry that she herself is abnormal for not having started yet. Margaret envies her classmate Laura who, unlike herself, already has a womanly figure and, according to Nancy, is sexually involved with a handsome older boy on whom Margaret has a crush. Margaret is also attracted to a popular boy in her class named Philip Leroy and kisses him at a party while playing Two Minutes in the Closet (a game similar to Seven Minutes in Heaven). Over time, Margaret discovers that her seemingly confident friend Nancy has her own insecurities and doesn't always tell the truth (she had told Margaret she got her first period on a vacation before she really did later at a restaurant with her), which puts Margaret in several uncomfortable situations.
Margaret's exploration of religion leads to conflict with both sides of her family. She enjoys spending time with her Jewish paternal grandmother, who at first seems to accept her for who she is. However, when Margaret attends synagogue in order to see what the Jewish faith entails, her grandmother begins to push Margaret to embrace Judaism, which frustrates Margaret as she feels that religion should not matter if she and her grandmother love each other. Margaret's Christian maternal grandparents, who have been estranged from Margaret and her parents for many years due to their disapproval of interfaith marriage, suddenly decide to visit, but a family argument erupts when they discover that Margaret is not being raised as a Christian. In frustration, Margaret declares that she doesn't believe in God and rejects both parents' religions. She gives up on God and stops talking to him. At the end of her study project, she has not been able to resolve her religious situation as she had hoped, but has learned about herself and become more comfortable with her lack of affiliation. She then gets her first period and, relieved and happy, resumes her previous relationship with God, saying, "I know you're there God. I know you wouldn't have missed this for anything! Thank you God. Thanks an awful lot…"
In 2010, the book was placed on Time's list of the top 100 fiction books written in English since 1923. The magazine wrote, "Blume turned millions of pre-teens into readers. She did it by asking the right questions—and avoiding pat, easy answers."
Starting in the 1980s, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret became a frequent target of challenges, often due to its discussions of sex or allegations that it contained profane or anti-Christian material. On the American Library Association (ALA) list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of the 1990s, the book was number 60, and on the ALA's list for the 2000s, it ranked at 99.
Blume's success with Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret inspired her to write another book, Then Again, Maybe I Won't, from a boy's perspective. This novel deals with Tony Miglione, a boy of the same age as Margaret who is dealing with puberty as well, although his transition from childhood to adulthood is quite different from Margaret's.