Margaret Simon likes long hair, tuna fish, the smell of rain, and things that are pink.
She’s just moved from New York City to the suburbs and is anxious to fit in with her new friends. They swear they’ll tell each other everything–first bras, first kisses, first periods–everything. But some things are just too private to talk about, even with your friends, and especially when you’re the new girl. Lucky for Margaret, she’s got someone else to confide in . . . someone who always listens.Add on Goodreads
I don’t remember when I first heard the name Judy Blume. It was likely in context of Meg Cabot and Babysitter’s Club because those things seem to go together and as fantasy-laden as my life has always been, none of those things were likely to come to me one at a time, but instead bundled like a three-pack of brightly packaged travel-sized Kleenex.
I read Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume last year after having seen the movie trailer for it and, separately, coming to the conclusion that, being a reader, I should be able to tell people “As a matter of fact, I have read Judy Blume.” So I read Tiger Eyes. I thought it was cute, a bit heart-breaking, quite relatable for the most part, but very short, practically truncated.
I felt the same sense here. I got to the end of the book and went, “Wait, it ends there?!” I felt like there was so much more of the story to be told! How could Blume have stopped there, right when so much of the drama was just getting started?!
“It was the 70s, Jean,” y’all are whispering to me. I know, I know. But I was really enjoying the story, connecting with Margaret as she was rapidly descending into the infernal vat of hormones that is the hallmark and indeed, crowning glory of teenagerhood.
But let’s talk about the craft of the thing.
Using Epigraphs to Reinforce Theme
Judy Blume tackles a lot of themes for a 150-page novel: school stress, attraction, body image, friendship, family, and religion. The last one is the one that rang out the loudest for me as I read because it’s where we find the title embedded: at the beginning (or end) of each chapter, there’s a short epigraph where Margaret voices her troubles to God and they all start off with, “Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret.”
I like that these were separated out instead of being sprinkled throughout the chapter. It gave a pulled-back view of what was going on with Margaret before and after a particular event. It’s a more intimate peek inside her psyche than what a scene may give us.
Judy Blume takes full advantage of the consistency of these epigraphs. They come before and/or after every single chapter. Until–
Grandmother smiled at last and gave a small laugh. “So Margaret is Christian!” she announced, like we all should have known.
“Please . . .” my mother said. “Margaret could just as easily be Jewish. Don’t you see–if you keep this up you’re going to spoil everything.”
“I don’t mean to upset you, dear,” Grandmother told my mother. “But a child is always the religion of the mother. And you, Barbara, were born Christian. You were baptized. It’s that simple.”
“Margaret is nothing!” my father stormed. “And I’ll thank you for ending this discussion right now.”
[. . .]
I was never going to talk to God again. What did he want from me anyway? I was through with him and his religions! And I was never going to set foot in the Y or the Jewish Community Center–never.Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
From this moment on, the epigraphs stop. It’s like a resounding thud sounds through the story and I could feel the absence as I read, the lack of deeper insight into Margaret’s worries and doubts. But the pain of this loss connected me deeper with Margaret because I was missing that connection to her just as she was missing her connection to God.
Is that not clever or what?
Have you read Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret? And how old were you when you read it?*
*= I can already tell you that I would not have appreciated this book as a kid. I think it may have freaked me out. (I was an extremely innocent child.)