Retro Friday: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie of Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.
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Still in the spirit of Banned Books Week, I thought I’d share about one of the books in the list that I read as I grew up for Retro Friday. I honestly had no idea why this had to be banned, because it’s quite a lovely book — I’m sure those who have read this would also agree. :)

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy BlumeAre You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Publisher: Laurel Leaf/Bantam Doubleday Dell
Number of pages: 149
My copy: paperback, bought from Booksale

No one ever told Margaret Simon that eleven-going-on- twelve would be such a hard age. When her family moves to New Jersey, she has to adjust to life in the suburbs, a different school, and a whole new group of friends. Margaret knows she needs someone to talk to about growing up-and it’s not long before she’s found a solution.

Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. I can’t wait until two o’clock God. That’s when our dance starts. Do you think I’ll get Philip Leroy for a partner? It’s not so much that I like him as a person God, but as a boy he’s very handsome. And I’d love to dance with him… just once or twice. Thank you God.

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I think my mom bought this book because God is in the title. If I were only getting this now, I’d buy it for the same reasons, which goes to show how I am such my mother’s daughter. :)

I read this just as I was about to turn thirteen, I think. From the very start of the book, I liked Margaret. It’s so easy to relate to her. She’s a very normal kid with a normal family who has typical questions about growing up. She’s feeling changes in her body, and she’s learning about these changes from her new friends in school, and she finds that its awkward to talk to her parents about it. She starts liking guys and she wonders if the guys somehow likes her back, too. I see a lot of my teenage self in her, but the only thing that Margaret and I don’t have in common is the religion aspect. While I grew up in a devout Catholic, Margaret grew up without knowing any religion because of her parents’ different beliefs (her mom being Christian and her dad Jewish).

It’s been a while since I last read this book, so I can’t remember all the parts of it. However, I know I have fond memories of this book, so much that I re-read this books a couple of times. She’s one of those characters whose normalcy makes her charming, and it’s not often we find someone like that in YA books nowadays — at least not one who is not involved in a paranormal love triangle of some sort. Her voice was real and funny, and she wasn’t especially mean or beautiful or popular, and that makes it easier to relate to her.

I liked how Judy Blume was very brave to address these questions that every pre-teen girl has and answer it in a realistic manner. She didn’t sugarcoat anything, no matter how embarrassing other things are because they really happen — like stuffing cotton in training bras, looking for ways how to get rid of acne fast or pretending to have a period already just so they’re ahead of their peers. Thankfully, I didn’t have the same kinds of pressure when I was Margaret’s age. It wasn’t such a big deal for my friends and I on who gets their period first or what. I think the only “competition” that was somewhat evident back then was who gets a boyfriend first (which I have obviously lost until now :P).

I also liked how Judy Blume made Margaret’s faith a huge part of the story. I liked that the way Margaret talked to God here was like a friend, like she could talk to Him anytime, and yet still respects Him for being, well, God. Margaret’s confusion over her religion felt real, and it was nice to read about someone who was actively searching for her faith and something to believe in. I think people often forget the most important thing that religion helps us build: a personal relationship with God. I liked how Margaret had the chance to see and experience the different traditions of different religions, how Judy Blume led her character through all those experiences yet still not give us a final decision. Instead, she gives Margaret a reason to believe and continue to talk to God in the way she knows how. Which I think God appreciates since it comes from the heart. :)

I’m not sure if this book is recommendable to boys (but Judy Blume has a boy version of this book entitled Then Again, Maybe I Won’t), but I absolutely recommend this to girls and parents of pre-teen girls — it’s one of those books that a girl must read at least once in their lives.

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Speak

Speak by Laurie Halse AndersonSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Puffin
Number of pages: 198
My copy: Paperback, Platinum edition, bought from Fully Booked

Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won’t talk to her, and people she doesn’t even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that’s not safe. Because there’s something she’s trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth. This extraordinary first novel has captured the imaginations of teenagers and adults across the country.

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It’s kind of timely that I’m reviewing this book during Banned Books Week, and I just realized it until now. I don’t really think Banned Books Week bears much bearing where I live since schools do not carry much of the books that are challenged, and anything that is supposed to be “required reading” are from local authors. It’s another topic to discuss really, which was covered a bit in the last Filipino Book Bloggers meet up. I was also pretty lucky enough that my parents allowed me to read anything I want. Sure, my mom made sure what I used to read when I was young was age-appropriate, but as I grew older, she let me pick what I want to read.

I don’t believe in censoring books, though. If it isn’t fit for public consumption, then it shouldn’t have been published in the first place, right? I believe in making sure the books children read are appropriate to their age, but not pulling the books out so no one will read it. I hate it even more when the people wanting to ban the books are those people who haven’t even taken the time to read them. :|

But I won’t be writing about the issue in this review anymore because I think I’ve written enough about it in another post, so I’ll take this time to focus on the book.

Melinda was looking forward to high school that summer, but all changed when she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. She starts the first day of school as an official outcast, where even her best friend would not look at her. But there was more to the busting that made Melinda’s situation different — something happened during that party that made Melinda shut up and curl into herself.

If you know me in person, you would know that I am very talkative. As in VERY. I used to think I was a shy person, but who am I kidding? I’m not. I may not be the friendliest person around, but I have a thousand stories I could probably share if needed to entertain or to just keep the conversation going. I can’t not speak, really. I can, but only for certain moods, or when it is absolutely required not to be silent. Otherwise, you’d always hear me first before actually seeing me.

Speak was a hard novel for me to read because I wanted Melinda to speak up about her situation. I even wanted to speak up in her place because she was suffering even if she doesn’t want to admit it. I do understand, however that her silence was her defense mechanism, like talking is mine. It was just kind of hard to watch her suffer through so many things when it could have been over soon if she just spoke up. I try to imagine myself in her situation, but as I was doing so, I stopped. I can’t, I don’t want to, because it’s not a situation any girl would want to be in. No one deserves to experience what Melinda felt, but unfortunately, it happens. :(

Laurie Halse Anderson’s first novel is a good one, but not easy to digest. These are what I call “issue” books. Compared to other contemporary YA, issue books deal with deeper issues, issues that the characters don’t have control with, like abuse or rape. Speak is written in almost like a stream-of-consciousness prose, where we have access to Melinda’s thoughts as she thinks of them. Even so, these thoughts were still filtered, as she filters them to herself as well. She refuses to think what happened on the night of the party, at least until she finally finds the courage to face it. I find the author’s depiction accurate, as far as my imagination can see. Some people may think that Melinda is too angsty and sarcastic, but I think it was just a way of defending herself, of fortifying the walls she built around her. For those like me who are blessed to not share the same experience of Melinda, it might be hard to sympathize with her at first, but as her story is revealed, it gets easier to feel for her. You may not love her, but you will want her to win in the end.

This is why books like Speak is important, because it gives the Melindas of the world a reason to…well, speak loudly. To let their voices be heard, to help other girls and to stop what happened from happening to anyone else again. There is strength in community, in having someone share the burden. Speak is empowering, and I think the number of positive reviews and the humongous reaction to Speak Loudly is enough proof of that.

Speak is a powerful book. The tree symbolism may be a bit cliche, but it’s just a minor thing. This book is sad, heartbreaking, sometimes horrifying, but still offers hope and beauty despite all the brokenness. It’s not my favorite book, but it’s one of the books I glad I read. :)

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