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. Torn between two faiths and two sets of grandparents hoping she will choose their religion, Margaret decides that she will investigate the possibilities available to her.
It is therein, that Margaret’s repeated canto of “Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret” gains multiple valences of possible meaning. Often used as a diary of her daily travail, Margaret prays to God for a variety of reasons, ranging from invoking him as a confidant to whom she can tell her secrets to calling out to him as a higher power with whom she can bargain (as when she asks him for larger breasts in exchange for cleaning her plate at supper every night for a month). When God apparently does not respond to her immediate need for divine intervention as an unexpected visit from her mother’s parents derails her trip to Florida to see her other grandmother, Margaret forsakes God as unreliable and threatens never to speak to him again.
Margaret’s notions of God operate on a personal level. She is still divided at the novel’s end as to her religious inclinations, and she addresses God not with the reverence due a deity but more with an interest toward personal survival and naïve inquiry. At the story’s end, when she reaches the menarche that she has been so desperate for, she feels that God has heard her. Only then does she address him with reverent thanks for making her feel as if she has arrived into physical maturity and closer connection to members of her social group.
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret is a funny, reassuring novel. The humor of the novel arises from three sources: reversals of expectations, ambiguous actions that are misperceived, and Margaret's unintentionally funny narration. Many reversals occur in the novel; for instance, the students in Margaret's sixth-grade class try to fool their teacher, Miles J. Benedict, by not writing their names on a test only to find graded tests on the appropriate desks the next class period because Benedict recognized his students' handwriting, and thus the tricksters are tricked. When Margaret...
(The entire section is 875 words.)