Wednesday, July 8, 2009

No. 60: Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume

I read somewhere that a group publishes a newsletter titled “How to Ban Judy Blume” and that Judy Blume herself actually subscribed to it. I’m torn between hoping this is true because that would be the most awesome thing ever, and hoping that it’s not true because I really can’t afford another girl crush right now. I’m already trying to figure out how to be BFFs with Gwen Stefani (rock star, fashion designer, hot husband, cute kids), Michelle Obama (brilliant, confident, great wardrobe) and Tina Fey (hilarious, brilliant, writer, producer, actress) and really have no time to add Judy Blume to my crush corner. ...but if it’s true, Judy’s cool factor is rocketing (rocketing!) up the scale. Plus, I couldn't have gotten through junior high without Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret which is much in Blume's favor.

So let's talk about this banned book. Margaret, 11-years old and the daughter of a Jewish father and a Christian mother, moves from New York City to suburbia just before the start of sixth grade. Her new teacher assigns the class a year long study project, which Margaret decides to do about faith because she herself is no religion and she needs to chose one. Margaret makes friends, hangs out with her grandma, and worries about bras, periods, and kisses from boys -- none of which she has experienced at the start of the book. Along the way, she talks to God, always starting with "Are you there, God? It's Me, Margaret..." as if God wouldn't a) be there or b) know who she was.

This book is brilliant and painful and funny and beautiful. Here's a passage that makes me laugh and breaks my heart at the same time:
“Are you there God? It's me, Margaret. I just told my mother I want a bra. Please help me grow God. You know where. I want to be like everyone else.”
I know, right? Don't you just want to cover your head or eat chocolate or burst into tears or something because this is exactly what puberty was like? Margaret has all the doubts, fears, and worries of a typical girl and Blume captures all of it. As a result, the book is full of 'tween angst but at its sweet center is Margaret just talking to God and trying to figure out her world.

So why is this lovely book banned? Censors seem to take issue with it's portrayal of religion (a political quagmire on a good day) and its frank discussions of boobies (the horror!) and periods (oh God no! anything but that!). Well, newsflash -- this is what little girls think about. Banning a book because it addresses growing up in a way that makes you uncomfortable is just retarded. ...and shortsighted because kids are going to think about these things and grow up whether you like it or not. So here's the deal censors (and I repeat myself): if you don't want your kids reading this book, don't let them. The rest of us will give our kids Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret in hopes that it will do for them what it did for us - arm them with a little more information and make them feel a little less alone.

One last thing... leave Judy Blume alone. This woman is a national treasure (and I don't mean that snarky), right up there with my BFFs Gwen, Michelle, and Tina.


  1. Hey, going to put you on my RSS feed, Kim: this looks read-worthy like whoa.

  2. Thanks Julia! I didn't even know I had an RSS feed.

  3. Hi Kim, this is Hannah with NCAC. Very articulate defense of Are You There God?, it's one of our favorites here since Judy Blume is on our board! Speaking of all this:

    Also, since I think you and your readers would be interested, let me plug our blog and Kids' Right to Read's latest author interview, with Francesca Lia Block whose book is in danger of being publicly burned in West Bend, WI...
    Keep spreading the word!

  4. Hannah, the hulu link of Will Arnett reading Judy Blume on the Jimmy Fallon show was AWESOME! So so funny. I'm glad that Ms. Blume is on your board. I didn't realize until I started doing research for this blog post that she's a powerhouse in the anticensorship movement.

    Your blog, as always, is great.

  5. i think that this novel is banned for dumb reasons by sensitive ppl because all it does is relate to what pre teen girls think about and even if they never learn about it it wont stop them from experiencing it

  6. Please find a better way to describe the small-mindedness of censors than to refer to it as "retarded." This term is becoming widely understood to be hurtful to developmentally impaired people and their families. Thanks for defending freedom for readers!