Welcome to the Banned Library Banned Books Project where I am reading all 100 of the most banned and challenged books from 2000-2009. I started this project a few years ago and have done a few reviews here and there, but now I am going to buckle down and finish this with a more... JESUS SOMEBODY STOP FORCING ME TO READ JUDY BLUME.
Sorry. I am sorry about that, I truly am. But after Tiger Eyes, Detour for Emmy, and Summer of My German Soldier… Look, I’m a thirty something white guy who has been reading way too much teen lit lately, and I may be on a threshold of something here. I took a small break, read the first two Game of Thrones books. Big mistake. That just reinforced the perspective that most teen lit is about very whiny people in less than extraordinary circumstances with little to no support systems, except they totally have support systems because by the end of the books everything is roses and very little has been accomplished. Summer of My German Soldier is an exception because of the whole religion/Nazi aspects.
So Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (which will now be known as The Book). This is a horror show of mediocrity. Just flat and flaccid teen bullshit with little to no consequence about anything. Less than a character study, The Book is a look at a young Jewish girl from New York moving to the suburbs and coming to terms with… nothing. She does little but stand by and watch people do things, form opinions based on those things, and realize that people are lying bastards. And then she gets her period. Spoiler alert.
I have no recollection of even being offered this book to read in school, maybe because it was “controversial” or maybe because as a male it was thought I would not be interested. Not as a male but as someone who likes complex stories, I wish to shake anyone’s hand who thought “eh, Margaret just doesn't seem like his bag.”
The Book is the base YA fiction before there was a thing. The most defining aspect of this book is the female protagonist doing the doubting and the discussing, contextualizing female issues during a turbulent time in her life. It presents issues like puberty and religion in a way that seems quaint, with teenagers discussing them frankly as no teenager ever has (and never will again thanks to Google searching.) The juxtaposition of the topics is interesting, especially with the decision that puberty, an inevitability for the majority of humans, is all important while religion is mentioned and given light without ever being handed the spotlight directly. The message for Margaret seems to be that her choices of religion and belief and perception of attitudes and motivations do not matter, as both are inconsequential, but the reality of puberty holds the basic truths of life. Margaret seems not to grow at all beyond “don’t be an asshole.” While a worthwhile lesson, the nature of the lesson is, again, quaint and very “after school special” if “after school special” is a reference that people still draw from. Google it.
The aftermath of nothing is nothing. With no events, no reason to be, Margaret’s displacement in her community means nothing but to give Margaret as an observer. Did she have friends in her old school? What happened after the year of the story? What happened in the story? The follow up to this book should be “What’s the Point?” and follows a Margaret as she has an okay time at the prom with the guy she kinda likes, culminating with them both losing their virginity on a futon to “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers. The blandness could continue infinitum.
As for why this book was censored… well, again, context of when it was published. The ideas of puberty being frankly discussed, of religion being doubted, these were very controversial topics (and still are in many areas). A female protagonist having her period and worrying about growing boobs raises red flags in schools, no matter how uninteresting the context. Here is a list of places where the book was challenged.
Has anyone read this book in the last twenty years? Is it due for an update (beyond slapping cell phones in everyone’s hand)? Do those updates every work? Was God ever there for Margaret? Should she have asked for a pony? Would this story have been better if God talked back?