Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret Review

wpid-img_20150207_131346.jpgWhen I mentioned at the weekend that I would be having a look back at some vintage classics, starting with a couple of Judy Blume‘s best known works, my news feed came alive with nostalgic comments.

A lot of my friends remembered the books fondly and it made me feel even more excited about hunkering down with some familiar characters over a cup of tea.

I wanted to read Forever first but in the end decided to save it until after I’d revisited Margaret. I’m glad I did that, for reasons I will come back to in the Forever review (spoiler alert: it’s still quite saucy!).

But to this book. I love it still and the thing that stood out most for me is the fact that the writing is really good. I have to confess that I half expected to be taking the piss out of the books that I was so into as a kid/teenager but there wasn’t a trace of that as soon as I picked them both up.

AYTGIMM follows 11 year old Margaret Simon as she navigates her way through a new school, new friends, a secret club, periods, boobs and boys. Written from her point of view, we learn some of the secrets that she doesn’t care to share with her friends, such as her true feelings for Moose, the boy who cuts the grass, and how much she really wants to get her period.

Margaret’s core group comprises Nancy Wheeler, Gretchen Potter and Janie Loomis. Together they form the Four PTSs (Pre-teen Sensations) who meet every Monday to pore over their boy books, talk about periods and do their boob enhancing exercises.

All my life it seems I have been semi-aware of the “I must, I  must, I must increase my bust” mantra and it comes from this book. It may have been a thing way before it was set to paper but this is where I picked it up. Yes, I did do it myself (and look at me now!). It was very pleasing to get the warm and fuzzies whilst remembering it.

Despite her intimate circle, every night Margaret chats with the one person (or entity) who will listen to her no matter what. But when she starts to question religion on a deeper level and it brings up issues she doesn’t like, their relationship becomes strained. Will Margaret continue to turn to G-O-D or with they grow apart forever?

I thought that the religion thing was actually quite inspired. Margaret is brought up in a similar way to how my brother and I were; encouraged to choose her own faith when she feels ready. Margaret’s father is Jewish, while her mother is Christian so Margaret decides to give each a fair crack before she commits to one of religion, if at all.

I won’t go into it too much, but it’s quite refreshing to think that this topic was approached head on and then handled in such a sensitive way. I’m impressed with the diplomatic way it raises questions but doesn’t veer in any one direction.

Margaret also shares a close relationship with her grandmother, Sylvia. Keen to convert her granddaughter to Judaism, Sylvia nicknames her “Jewish Girl” which just adds pressure to Margaret as she tries to work out which way she should turn, biblically (or Torah-ly).

Blume also addresses the subject of slut shaming, although I am confident that this was not a phrase back when I was 11, even if it was definitely a thing.

Poor Laura Denker is labelled a bit of a goer (my words) because she is tall and well-developed for her age. She is  the subject of much bitching (but mostly envy) within the secret club, who have heard rumours about her getting felt up behind the bike sheds (or the US equivalent, the bleachers?) by Nancy’s brother, Evan and the aforementioned, Moose.

But the main topic on all the girls’ minds is of course, puberty. The girls do focus a lot of attention on boys, mainly Phillip Leroy, the class fitty but that’s nothing compared to the massive amount of time they all spend fretting about growing up, finally getting their periods and proving that they are normal.

I remember so vividly how I used to feel before the Big P came along, how much I wanted to get it and kick start womanhood. It’s nice to be reminded of the girl I used to be, who still pops up her head every now and again, who sometimes has the same worries she used to about the way she looks.

Ah, the simpler days.

(Incidentally, on the day I finally got my period, I was running indoors and banged my head, cutting it open. That day I bled from both ends, proof you should be careful what you wish for. Although, as compensation, we did get fish and chips for supper).

All in all, I adored my trip down Memory Lane. Judy Blume did so well because she understood, and was able to convey what it’s like to be this age. In 2010, Margaret was placed on Time magazines Top 100 fiction books written in English since 1923 list:  ″Blume turned millions of pre-teens into readers. She did it by asking the right questions—and avoiding pat, easy answers.″ (via Wikipedia).

Which sums it up better than anything. She just gets it.

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Cover by Julian Montague

The question to answer, I suppose, is does the book hold up? I think so. I mean, I’m 25 years older than the main protagonist so the things I worry about now are somewhat different to then. However, from a nostalgic point of view, I can remember those feelings of inadequacy and pressure like they were yesterday.

I like to be reminded of who I was and of being that age. I also wonder if there is that much difference between being (nearly) 12 years old back when I was 12, or indeed back when AYTGIMM was first published in 1970 (over 40 years ago), and being 12 now. I would imagine, at the centre of it they have the same worries with a lot more besides.

I think my generation are lucky they didn’t have to grow up in the digital age. Nobody had a phone of their own until the very early naughties (or I definitely didn’t) and MySpace was just about the most exciting thing happening on the web, which was still dial-up and patchy at best.

I can only imagine what this book would be like if it were rewritten in today’s setting. A hell of a lot more slut shaming, a bit of internet trolling and a lot of distracted tweeting, rather than two minutes in the closet, I’d bet.

I’m sure I’d still love it though.

Book details:

 Next up: Forever by Judy Blume.

Let’s Talk About Sex

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Tip toeing into womanhood

Write about your first sexual experience (via Writing Exercises)

My first sexual encounter wasn’t all that but, as is often the way, I have been left with a great story to add to my box of memories which sees itself rolled out when the vodka is flowing and the tone has been lowered.

Something you might not know about me: I love talking about sex.

People can be very prissy about it but it’s only natural, right? I don’t think I’m a lewd girl without class but I enjoy penis talk and a girthy range of other saucy topics. So sue me.

Like Salt n’ Pepa once said “Let’s tell it how it is, and how it could be. How it was, and of course, how it should be” (Let’s Talk About Sex, 1991)

I was a late bloomer. Not for political reasons. I was just terrified of the idea of ‘doing it’ and the male form, and crippled by my own inadequacies as a ‘woman’. My classmates were happily sowing their oats and taking the piss out of all of us Virgins, pondering whether we might actually be ‘lezzas’ and making us all terrified to even glance in the general direction of someone of the same sex.

For about twenty minutes I sat and thought about whether I actually might be into girls but I figured in the end that my fascination with the more exotic of my species was down to the comfort in which they strode about in their own skin. I liked boys anyway and wanted one for myself, if I could only muster the courage to touch one.

I was eighteen when I finally got to the stage where I thought I could shrug off the taboo of still being chaste. By then my friend Lucy and I were going up to London every weekend and going to clubs, being bad girls. We met some boys (I say boys but my boy was 24) and started to spend time with them, sometimes sharing their spare room if we missed the last train home, which we always did.

Through these boys I met Marvin. He was quite the alluring prospect with his tight dreadlocks and beautiful dark skin. I wasn’t all that romantically inclined but he liked me, smelt nice and hey, if it all went wrong I didn’t have to see him again. Tactics, my friends even at that young age.

We arranged to meet and by chance, Lucy had also lined up a date for the night, so we booked into a B&B in South London. We went for drinks then went our separate ways, Lucy to the boudoir with the boy she’d met in the Wimpy, me with Marvellous Marvin.

I lied about my experience, scoffing convincingly when questioned about whether I had had sex before. This perhaps worked against me in the end, since he took no prisoners if you know what I mean.

When the deed was done (hours later), he got up, told me he had to go back to his girlfriend and asked me for cab fare. With a smile that may or may not have contained a gold tooth, he was gone.

I wasn’t even mad. He’d served his purpose and when he asked to see me two weekends later, I ignored the message. All I really remember now of that event is the morning after, walking to the tube with an ache where you’d expect an ache to be after being thrown around all night like a rag doll. It felt like adulthood.

I didn’t have it off again until two years later, and that time I got my little heart shattered.

But that’s another story.

Adult Visions

Prompt via The Daily Post (23rd July 2014)

As a kid, you must have imagined what it was like to be an adult. Now that you’re a grownup (or becoming one), how far off was your idea of adult life?little girl shoes

I always thought that when I finally became an adult, I would feel like one. That hasn’t happened yet.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t own my own house or have a ‘proper’ job. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have children or a car. I don’t know. All I know is that it hasn’t hit me yet.

When I was a kid I don’t know what I expected from life. I was a live in the moment girl (I think). I loved music and dressing up but I didn’t dream of white weddings and horses like many of my peers. I suppose I assumed it would just happen and I would do all the things people were ‘supposed’ to do when the time came.

I have done some of it but most of my decisions in life have not been very sensible. I guess I equate adulthood with being sensible then. Although, I’m casting my mind back and growing up the only adults I really spent time around were my Mum and her cousin, Aunty Sine.

Both these women were my ultimate heroes, even though Mum was terribly uncool at times (guys she’s my Mum, of course she was!). I think I looked to them as such because neither of them needed a man to get through. Their situations were very different but they seemed so Can Do and found strength in each other. I think maybe I found strength in their strength (plus apart from them, I was surrounded by smelly boys and Star Wars toys, so had little choice).

Later on, I did turn to men for the things I thought I needed – but give a girl a break, at least I learnt eventually that’s just a crock of sh*t. Ultimately, the only hero you need to save you, is you. *VOM!*

Despite these two ladies dragging us up by the scruffs of our necks, all by themselves, I wouldn’t describe them as particularly sensible. I remember the bottles of wine once we were in bed, guys… Maybe then, being grown up is about strength; about just getting on and doing life the best way you know how?

I’ve had some cray jobs (dating agency, adult material mail order, turkey plucking), went travelling instead of going to University, fell in love with stupid boys (who hasn’t?). I’ve lived alone (for a bit) in a strange foreign city, accepted a free tattoo from a man who lives in a hut in Thailand; all of these things make up the fabric of my rites of passage and the end result is: I’m still just a kid at heart. Sensible? No, not really, but strong? Better believe it!

The most grown up things about me, to date, are: 1) I always pay my bills on time 2) I’ve committed myself for life to another human being and 3) I’ve filed my own tax returns (in 2010 and 2011).

So, to recap: how far off was my idea of adulthood? Pretty far, I guess.

I though 30 was ancient and I assumed I would have kids because Mum did and so did Sine. I don’t think I actually pictured the man I would end up with (and I like to think that’s because then, I didn’t even want one).

I thought I’d have a better job, maybe something creative like fashion designer or an artist, like Dad (shame I can’t draw for fudge). Beyond that, I don’t think I had the normal expectations. I knew I’d see the world, make friends, be happy.

Guess really, I’m not such a bad non-adult adult after all, huh?

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