Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret was Blume’s first weighty novel attempting to tackle a major problem (or problems) she associated with her own childhood: moving to a new community, separating from family, and coming into physical maturity. Margaret, the story’s protagonist, relocates from New York City to a new town and school in suburban New Jersey. Though skeptical about her new surroundings, she quickly makes friends—an assemblage of girls who come to identify themselves as the Pre-Teen Sensations. It is among these girls that Margaret discovers the complex relations surrounding a variety of prepubescent issues including boys, menstruation, and petty jealousies surrounding girls who have had greater success with either of the former.
As the title indicates, the focus of the book centers around Margaret coming to terms with herself and her heritage as she tries to discover in what religious community she wishes to participate: Judaism or Christianity. Margaret’s mother, recovering from trauma at the hands of her proselytizing Christian parents, and Margaret’s father, shunned by his in-laws because he is Jewish, have decided that Margaret could choose her own religion when she is old enough to decide for herself.
Unfortunately for Margaret, “old enough” comes about through an assignment from her new teacher, Mr. Benedict, who assigns the individual class members a year-long study of something meaningful to them....
(The entire section is 491 words.)
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Chapter 1 Summary
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret begins as Margaret Simon talks to God. Her words sound like they belong in any ordinary conversation; she doesn't use the dears and amens people usually use in prayers. She tells God she is moving to New Jersey, which she hopes will not "be too horrible." She worries that she will hate her new school, or that her new classmates will hate her.
Margaret feels suspicious of her parents’ motives for moving. She has been away at camp for most of the summer, and now that she is home, she finds that her parents have bought a house in New Jersey. When she asks why, they say all the other suburbs are “too social,” “too expensive,” or “too inconvenient.” This answer frustrates Margaret, who does not understand why she has to leave New York City in the first place.
Margaret’s parents try to get her excited by telling her all about the garden they will have and the public school she will attend. These conversations just confuse Margaret, who never knew her parents liked gardens or public schools.
Privately, Margaret thinks her parents are moving because of Grandma—also known as Sylvia Simon—who is a little controlling. Margaret loves Grandma, who knits her special sweaters and buys all kinds of cool presents. Until now, Grandma has always paid Margaret’s private school tuition, too. It upsets Margaret that Grandma “won’t be able to” do that anymore.
Although Grandma pays for some things, Margaret’s family is not poor. They are doing just fine, largely because she lacks brothers and sisters, which “cuts way down on food and clothes.” Her parents wanted more kids but never had any, and Margaret is glad. It means she does not have to get into fights all the time.
But it means Margaret needs an ally sometimes, and Grandma usually fills that role for her. Thinking it over, Margaret feels certain her parents are moving just to make sure Grandma does not influence Margaret so much. Grandma has no car, and she hates trains and buses. This means she is unlikely to visit New Jersey, which will be sad.
From Margaret’s perspective, the only good thing about the move is that she will no longer have to listen to Grandma's questions about boyfriends. Every time Grandma visits, she asks whether Margaret has found a special boy yet and whether he is Jewish. This annoys Margaret because she is only eleven, and she does not feel ready to date. Even if she did, she would not care about the boy’s religion.
Chapter 2 Summary
Almost as soon as Margaret’s family arrives at the new house, a girl named Nancy Wheeler knocks on the door and invites her over.
Nancy turns out to be quite intimidating. She brags that her breasts are beginning to develop and points out that Margaret’s are still flat. Nancy has an impressive make-up collection, but she is not allowed to wear make-up outside yet. She claims to be a good kisser, too, because she practices on her pillow all the time. However, she admits she has never kissed an actual boy. This comes as a relief to Margaret, who has never kissed a boy either.
At Nancy’s house, Margaret meets Nancy’s mom, Mrs. Wheeler. Mrs. Wheeler gives Margaret “the third degree” about her father’s insurance job and her mother’s artwork. When Mrs. Wheeler offers to let Margaret join the Sunday school carpool, Margaret says she does not go to church. Mrs. Wheeler seems surprised; Nancy, embarrassed, drags Margaret away.
Out in the front yard, the girls play in the sprinkler until Nancy’s fourteen-year-old brother Evan sprays them hard as a joke. This makes Nancy mad, and she runs inside to tattle. Meanwhile, Margaret is left alone with Evan and his friend Moose. She regards them suspiciously, wrapping her towel tightly around her. Nancy has claimed that boys their age think of nothing but “naked girls and dirty books,” and Margaret is not taking any chances.
Evan and Moose say nothing about sex or nakedness to Margaret. Moose only talks about his lawn cutting service, and he insists that she recommend him to her father. She memorizes his name and information and promises to pass on the message. Privately, she thinks that Moose is good-looking, but she decides not to say so to Nancy.
A few minutes later, Nancy walks Margaret home. The two of them are going to be in the same class at school, so they make plans to walk together on the first day. Nancy insists that Margaret not wear socks to school. Otherwise the other girls will think she is “a baby” will not want her to be in their secret club. Nancy promises to reveal more about this club when school starts.
That evening, Margaret talks to God about her new house. She describes her room and admits that the suburbs sound scary at night. She also asks God to “arrange” for her breasts to start developing soon.
When this is done, Margaret reflects that her parents do not know she talks to God. If she told them, they would would think she was a “religious freak." But she likes God because “He belongs to everybody.”
Chapter 3 Summary
At first, Margaret’s father is not interested in hiring Moose to cut his lawn. He says he wants to do it himself. However, on his first attempt to use the lawnmower, he tries to empty the bag of grass clippings while the motor is running. He cuts himself so badly that Margaret thinks he may lose a finger. On the way to the hospital, she asks God to make sure her father ends up okay. As it turns out, he needs eight stitches, and he decides to hire Moose after all.
Early in the morning on Labor Day, Margaret wakes up to the sound of knocking at the door. She finds Grandma on the front steps, her arms loaded with food from a New York delicatessen. Grandma insists that New Jersey food is not as good. Margaret disagrees but does not try to argue. It is pointless to try to change Grandma's mind about anything.
Instead, Margaret asks how Grandma got to New Jersey. Grandma explains that, even though she hates all forms of public transportation, she decided to take a train to visit her only granddaughter. This delights Margaret.
When Margaret’s parents wake up, she rushes upstairs to tell them that Grandma is here. They are shocked, and they both say it is “impossible” that Grandma could have overcome her dislike of trains so quickly. They do not go so far as to say anything mean in front of Margaret, but they definitely do not seem excited about this visit.
When Margaret’s parents come downstairs, they act like Grandma’s visit is a “wonderful surprise.” They call her “clever” for finding her way to their new house when they had not yet told her the address. Then they all eat the New York breakfast she cooks them.
After breakfast, Margaret shows Grandma her room. Grandma says she would like to buy Margaret a new set of bedroom things. She begins to list them off—but halfway through, she stops herself and heaves a sigh. “But I guess your mother wants to fix [your room] up herself,” she says. Margaret agrees that this is probably true. After that, Grandma keeps her opinions about Margaret's bedroom to herself.
However, Grandma does not remain silent on the subject of New Jersey’s food. All day, she makes a point of eating the New York food she brought. With every bite, she moans with pleasure and says, “Nothing like the real thing.” Margaret finds this funny, but her parents do not.
Before Grandma leaves, she takes Margaret aside and privately arranges to talk on the phone every evening at seven-thirty. Margaret agrees, although it seems like a lot of long-distance phone calls to her. Grandma warns her not to tell her parents, because they might not like it.
Chapter 4 Summary
The night before school starts, Margaret washes and curls her hair. In the morning, she is so nervous she cannot eat breakfast. Her mother comments that she felt the same way as a child. This annoys Margaret:
My mother’s always telling me about when she was a girl. It’s supposed to make me feel that she understands everything.
But Margaret’s mother does not understand everything. For instance, she cannot understand why Margaret refuses to wear socks to school. She says Margaret will get blisters on her feet and acts like it is ridiculous to put up with such a thing. But Nancy specifically told Margaret that only babies wear socks, and being considered a baby is...
(The entire section is 449 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Margaret goes to Nancy’s house for the meeting of the secret club. It turns out there are only two other members, both from their class at the new school: Janie Louis and Gretchen Potter.
At the meeting, the four girls eat cookies and chat. Nancy teases Gretchen, who is a bit overweight, for taking too many cookies. Then the conversation turns to Laura Danker, the tall and big-breasted girl from class. Margaret learns that Laura “has a bad reputation.” Her body developed early, and that makes older guys, maybe even Mr. Benedict, show interest. Plus, Laura probably gets her period already.
The subject of periods worries Margaret because she has not started menstruating yet. When the others ask her about...
(The entire section is 617 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
At school the next day, Mr. Benedict asks to speak privately with Margaret, and he asks why she wrote that she does not like religious holidays. This makes Margaret nervous because she is the only one singled out like this. Does Mr. Benedict think she is abnormal?
Margaret tries to dodge Mr. Benedict's question, but he presses her for an answer. Eventually she admits that her family is not religious. He seems pleased by this explanation, which comes as a relief to Margaret. Still, as she goes out to recess, she reflects that nobody in New York ever cared about her religion. Here in New Jersey, it seems to be the main thing on everyone’s mind—and the main thing that makes her stand out.
(The entire section is 474 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
At home, Margaret puts on a new bra. She cannot work the clasp behind her back properly, but she does not want to ask her mother for help getting dressed every day. Eventually she works out a way to clasp the bra around her waist and then squirm until she gets the thing on properly. Just out of curiosity, she stuffs the bra with a couple of socks to see how it looks. She likes the effect—but she takes the socks out before leaving her room.
On Monday, Margaret looks carefully at all the boys in her class and picks two names to write on her list. Her choices are Philip Leroy, the best-looking boy in the class, and Jay Hassler, who has pretty eyes and clean hands. She sticks with just two names, figuring that she can...
(The entire section is 600 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
On Friday, Margaret and her classmates arrive at school to find their history tests graded and labeled correctly by name. Margaret is thrilled with her high A, but some other kids are not so happy. Mr. Benedict says nothing about the nameless tests, but he looks cheerful. Margaret guesses that he knows he won a round.
During class, Mr. Benedict brings up the subject of the special projects. Margaret worries about how to choose a meaningful topic. Plenty of things are meaningful to her, but it would be embarrassing to share them with Mr. Benedict. She definitely does not want to tell him about Moose, about “bras and what goes in them,” or about God.
After this last thought, Margaret reconsiders. She would...
(The entire section is 493 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
Margaret’s parents buy her a new set of fancy clothes to wear to temple. This is okay with Margaret, although they insist that she wear white gloves, which make her hands feel sweaty. She gets the gloves dirty on the bus, so she takes them off and hides them in her purse.
At temple, Margaret watches the process of religion very carefully. She notes that an usher takes people to their seats, and that people smile at her when Grandma introduces her. She enjoys the organ music, and she thinks the rabbi’s clothes look quite similar to clothes she has seen on priests from time to time.
Margaret does not understand the words the rabbi speaks. Much of the service is conducted in Hebrew, which she does not...
(The entire section is 422 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
In November, Laura Danker wears a sweater to school for the first time. This shows off her breasts, and supposedly Mr. Benedict cannot stop staring at her. Margaret does not actually notice this, but Nancy mentions it later. As for Margaret, she is more interested in being annoyed at Freddy, who asks her why she does not look so good in a sweater.
Margaret still has a crush on Moose, whom she watches secretly whenever he cuts her lawn. She does not dare show her face in front of him anymore, not since the day he and Evan eavesdropped on the PTS meeting and overheard the girls reciting the rhyme about increasing their busts. Now Margaret stays in her room when he is around, watching him through her window. She is...
(The entire section is 468 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
By December, the PTSes stop using their secret names when they hold meetings. Their ordinary names are less confusing. They also give up sharing their Boy Books every week. Nobody’s list ever changes. Nancy, who has the most names on her list, manages to change the order pretty regularly, but nobody else has enough names to do that. Philip Leroy stays on the top of everyone’s list, and Margaret privately wonders whether the other girls actually like him. She reflects that they might be as scared to write the truth as she is.
Some things remain constant at PTS meetings. Above all, the girls continue their fascinated and minute discussions of bodies and bodily changes. One day, Gretchen sneaks in an anatomy book from...
(The entire section is 439 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Every year, Grandma takes a cruise to the Caribbean around the holidays. She always holds a little going-away party in her cabin on the cruise ship—and this year, for the first time, Margaret’s parents give her permission to go. Her parents bring Grandma a present, a jewelry box so that she can keep her jewels safe during the trip.
Grandma seems to appreciate this gift, and she says that all her jewelry needs to stay safe for Margaret’s sake because someday it will be hers. This annoys Margaret, who does not like it when Grandma talks about dying. But Grandma has her whole death planned out, complete with instructions for her funeral and the care of her grave.
After Grandma’s boat leaves,...
(The entire section is 488 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
When the pageant is over, Margaret goes home and finds a letter waiting for her. She is excited because she rarely gets mail, so she makes the process of reading it take as long as possible. She looks it over for a while before she tears open the envelope. When she sees the card, she can tell it is a party invitation, but she forces herself to wait a few minutes before she unfolds the card to see who sent it. It turns out to be a formal invitation to a dinner party. It comes from Norman Fishbein, a boy Margaret does not like—nobody does—but “a party is a party.” She immediately decides she wants to go.
Soon Margaret learns from Nancy that everyone in their whole class is invited to Norman’s party. It is a...
(The entire section is 413 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
Eventually Margaret is all ready for the party. Her parents smile a great deal as she waits for her ride to the party, but they refrain from saying “anything dumb” about their little girl growing up. Margaret laughs to herself about the stuffed bra, but she is glad her parents do not seem to notice any difference.
When she arrives at Norman Fishbein’s house, Margaret finds his fancy furniture and big rooms impressive. The party takes place in the basement, where the kids all stand around looking awkward in their best clothes. At first, the boys and girls mostly stay apart. Within a few minutes, Philip Leroy takes off his tie and jacket, and soon all the other boys follow his lead.
During dinner, a...
(The entire section is 511 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
On Christmas Eve, Margaret goes to church with Nancy’s family. Beforehand, Nancy promises that Margaret will not have to meet the priest. “He doesn’t even know my name,” she says. This comes as a relief to Margaret because she feels free to watch and listen as she pleases. There is no confusing sermon, either, just a lot of singing about Christmas. When she gets home, Margaret tells God about it:
I loved the choir—the songs were so beautiful. Still, I didn’t really feel you God. I’m more confused than ever . . . If only you’d give me a hint God. Which religion should I be?
Grandma returns home from her cruise, but soon she leaves again for a...
(The entire section is 547 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
Because Grandma is away in Florida, Margaret goes to the Lincoln Center with her mother. This is not as much fun because Margaret does not get to ride the bus to New York by herself. Also, her mother thinks Margaret should pay attention to the show at the Lincoln Center, whereas Grandma shares Margaret’s interest in watching the people.
The rest of Chapter 16 consists of a series of letters between Margaret and Grandma. These letters are notable because, unlike the in-person conversations between the two characters, they have little content. Margaret mentions a few of the important parts of her life, and so does Grandma. However, both characters seem unable to share their feelings the way they do when they talk. ...
(The entire section is 414 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
One weekend, Margaret takes a trip to New York with Nancy and her family. Evan brings Moose, whom Margaret still likes. To her disappointment, the boys avoid the girls all day. However, Margaret manages to snag a seat next to Moose at the Steak Place, where they all go for dinner.
After everyone orders, Nancy and Margaret go to the bathroom. Margaret is alarmed when Nancy locks herself in a stall and refuses to come out. “Oh no—oh no—” Nancy says, but she refuses to explain what is wrong. Margaret runs to get Mrs. Wheeler.
Mrs. Wheeler comes to the bathroom, but Nancy is too upset to open the stall door and let her in. Eventually Margaret crawls underneath and unlocks the door from the inside. Mrs....
(The entire section is 435 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
In March, Margaret has her twelfth birthday. She has long believed that people’s armpits start to stink at age twelve, but hers seem to smell fine like always. Still, at breakfast, she informs her mother that she is going to start using deodorant. Her mom laughs and agrees that this may be a good idea. She promises to buy a stick of deodorant for Margaret.
Margaret gets a lot of great birthday presents. Grandma sends her a savings bond, several homemade sweaters, a swimsuit, and a plane ticket to Florida. At school, Margaret’s friends give her a record album, and Nancy slips Margaret a separate card calling her “the best friend a girl could have.” Margaret takes this as a reference to the secret about Nancy’s...
(The entire section is 421 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
For three whole weeks, as long as the stupid group project lasts at school, Margaret is in an awful mood. Her group is full of annoying people, and to make matters worse, they refuse to choose a cool country, like France or Spain, for their project. They vote to write about Belgium, a country Margaret considers stupid.
For three weeks, Margaret thinks nonstop about stupid Belgium. Philip Leroy turns out to be really lazy, and he just sits around doodling instead of helping. Norman Fishbein works hard, but he is such a slow reader that he does not do his share of the work. Aside from Margaret, the only good worker is Laura Danker—but Margaret does not say so because she does not want to compliment a girl with a bad...
(The entire section is 595 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
A week later, Margaret’s mother gets a letter from her parents. When Margaret’s dad sees their names on the envelope, he freaks out. He demands to know how they even knew the address. Margaret’s mother admits she sent her parents a Christmas card, and this leads to a fight.
Margaret hates it when her parents fight. She shouts at them to stop, but they do not listen. She runs to her room and puts on loud music to drown out the noise. After a few minutes, her dad comes in and turns off the music. He says that she needs to understand what is going on, and he gives her the letter from her mother’s parents. Margaret takes it cautiously, unsure how she feels about reading the words of these other...
(The entire section is 434 words.)
Chapter 21 Summary
For the next week, Margaret’s mother cleans constantly. Margaret is sullen and sulky, and so is her dad. The two of them take each other’s side in several arguments with Margaret’s mother.
One night at dinner, Margaret’s mother asks her family to be more understanding. She explains that she has not forgiven her parents and never will. However, she feels the need to face them, and that will be much easier if she has the support of her husband and daughter. Margaret feels grown-up to be talked to in this way. She promises to be nicer, and her dad does too.
When the day of the visit arrives, Margaret goes along with her mother to the airport. On the way, Margaret’s mother tries to explain why her...
(The entire section is 533 words.)
Chapter 22 Summary
The following day, Margaret keeps to her room during breakfast and asks permission to leave the house in the afternoon. Margaret’s mother agrees that it would be a good idea for her to get away for a while. They make plans for Margaret to meet Janie and go to a movie.
The two girls arrive at the theater a little early, so they go to the drugstore to hang out until the show starts. They gaze curiously at the display of maxi pads, and Margaret suggests that they each buy some. She has been considering this for a while, but today is the first time that she feels brave enough to actually do it.
Janie is not so sure. She does not need pads yet, and she is scared that her parents will be mad if she buys some and...
(The entire section is 420 words.)
Chapter 23 Summary
Not long after the other grandparents leave, Margaret hears a knock at the door. On the doorstep she finds Grandma, her father's mother. Grandma hugs a delighted Margaret and then introduces a friend, Morris Binamen. When Grandma says his name, Mr. Binamen adds, “Rhymes with cinnamon.” This appeals to Margaret, who also likes Mr. Binamen’s moustache and black glasses. He is tan from the Florida sun, and he acts very gentlemanly.
When the introductions are over, Grandma asks Margaret where the other grandparents are. Margaret explains that they have already left, and Grandma and Mr. Binamen exchange “a secret look.” They explain that they decided to come for a visit in case Margaret needed...
(The entire section is 432 words.)
Chapter 24 Summary
At school one day, Mr. Benedict says that everyone’s special project will be due on Friday. He tells the kids that there will be no grades and that they should be totally honest about what they have learned from their work. At the end of this speech, he says he hopes everyone has accomplished “something of value.”
The night before the project is due, Margaret writes a letter to Mr. Benedict. In it, she explains that she has made “a year-long experiment in religion.” She says honestly that she set out to decide which religion she wanted to join, but she has not managed to make a choice. In fact, she is no longer sure she wants to be religious at all.
In her letter, Margaret describes everything she...
(The entire section is 418 words.)
Chapter 25 Summary
At the end of the school year, there is a big party in the gym. Margaret spends the afternoon marveling about the fact that she is going to be in seventh grade next year. She is proud of herself for being so grown-up. She only wishes her body would get the message and grow up as much as her mind has.
At the party, Margaret’s class gives Mr. Benedict a set of cuff links as a going-away present. He seems overwhelmed by the gift, and he thanks them for the teaching experience they gave him. When he adds that they gave him more experience than he bargained for, they laugh.
After the party, the four PTSes go out to lunch, where they share their worries about junior high. They have heard that junior high...
(The entire section is 475 words.)