⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ What I Liked: weird but relatable coming of age, quick read
What I Didn't: weird male teacher, weird teen girl stuff, cut and dry writing that doesn't always appeal to me
TW: Blood, Antisemitism, Religious bigotry, Bullying, Body shaming, Fatphobia, Misogyny, Adult/minor relationship, Injury/Injury detail
For whatever reason, I never read any Judy Blume books until this year. I started with Forever... and now I have moved onto Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret and while 35 is a strange age a to start enjoying controversial middle grade literature, I believe it's better late than never. Not only have I survived age 12 but I now have two kids around the same age; I got to enjoy the emotions coming from all sides!
I read it in one sitting, it was easy to get through and the plot was relatable enough while also being a bit silly at times. These are preteen girls though, so that's par for the course. After reading it, I went to see the movie this week with a friend and we pretty much cried the entire time. There's a lot to unpack.
Margaret is an almost 12 year old girl when her family (Barbara and Herb) decides to mover her out of NYC and into New Jersey and away from her paternal grandma, Sylvia. As the story unfolds, we find out that Sylvia and Herb are Jewish while Barbara was raised by devout Christians who disowned her when she married Herb. When Margaret finds out about the move, she is upset but after they arrive, she quickly becomes part of a secret group of girls who are obsessed with growing boobs, boys and getting their periods.
The book, originally published in 1970's, paints a great pictures of life in the suburbs from the vantage point of a young girl who is trying to make sense of her life, the world around her and her body. Blume's writing style is very to the point with little to no fluff and this book is no exception. She tells the story very plainly but the story has a lot of heart in itself because it reminded me of my own childhood and I can imagine that when other preteens read it, they feel seen in the pages. The book has good bones.
The film which premiered on April 28, 2023, did a great job of bringing the definitive writing to life in an endearing, evocative way. The perfectly cast Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret and Rachel McAdams did a fantastic job as her mother, Barbara. Benny Safdie as Herb was extremely lovable and kind. Kathy Bates as his mom and Margaret's grandma, Sylvia, was genius. Everyone did such a fantastic job of bringing this classic story to life. If the book was good bones, the film was good everything else.
Comparatively, I think the movie did a lot of heavy lifting for me as far as enjoyment. I liked the book initially - even if I was grown when I read it - but I remember what it was like to be a tween girl, watching everyone else grow up and being so impatient to join them, talking to god and never feeling like he heard me and having to figure that out on my own. The cast was impeccable, they made me fall in love with them. I liked that they omitted the creep factor of the adult male teacher in the movie too, that made me dislike him less. He was still weird and pushy towards Margaret about religion and her using it as a topic for her paper, but that may just be the atheist in me taking the mic. If one of my kids' teachers was talking to them about religion, I'd have issues THAT'S ALL I'M SAYING!
My favorite part of the movie - and the biggest change I noticed from book to film - had to be the fact that Sylvia (grandma) came back and crashed the dinner with the other grandparents. I wanted her to show up so badly when I read the book and my wish was granted. Again, how great is Kathy Bates in literally everything she ever does?!
I really think the movie was a perfect adaptation to an already modern classic. It filled in the gaps that the book left wide open, it smoothed out some of the more unsavory bits and gave me a more familiar look at these characters. I connected to every generation and their struggles.
A side note before I leave you...
Judy Blume's marketing team reached out to me a bit before her new documentary was set to air and sent me copies of some of her most controversial books, Margaret being one of them. When I tell you I called everyone I knew and told them about this, I mean it. Judy Blume and her books are legendary, beloved and as infamous as they are popular, and they sent some to me!? It was one of those bookish vault moments that you really want to sit in and enjoy while it's happening so I wanted to share that with you too.
Books are magic and so are you!