Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret
Eleven-year-old Margaret returns from summer camp to discover that her parents have sold their New York apartment to buy a suburban house in New Jersey, far away from her Grandma in the city.
Life in New Jersey is different, but okay – on the first day that Margaret moves in, Nancy Wheeler from six doors away knocks at the door and invites her over to run under the sprinklers in her back garden. Margaret quickly learns that in Nancy’s secret club, the girls are very interested in growing up – getting their period, wearing makeup, kissing boys and wearing bras. Only, Margaret hasn’t done any of those things yet. To assuage her worries, Margaret secretly talks to God in her mind, telling him all her thoughts and asking him to help her grow up so she can be like all the other girls.
Judy Blume’s classic tale of the transition to tween-hood for girls perfectly expresses the doubts and hopes young girls may have about their changing bodies and the expectations society has for them – including the pressures put on girls in terms of their appearance. Written in 1970, there are some dated references (sanitary pads with belts, for instance) and the fact that Margaret’s mum isn’t a housewife is probably less notable now than it once was, but the dynamics of Margaret and Nancy’s friendship group are still very recognisable. Blume’s relatable, honest character voices mean that she can also explore wider themes such as culture and religion from a child’s point of view without making judgements, but mirroring attitudes of the time (Margaret’s family are not particularly religious, though Margaret’s grandma is Jewish, and there is a noticeable Catholic/Jewish split in her new community).
A brilliant book about growing up – and a positive look at menstruation, in particular – this story remains relevant and engaging today.