Banned coming-of-age novel that boosted middle grade genre finally gets its flowers
I finished Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret during a daylong doctor’s appointment when I was nine years old. The famous Judy Blume story was already over 25 years old when I devoured it in less than 24 hours. I was wearing a training bra and the loom of the period was hanging over my head since some of my fourth-grade friends already had theirs. I laughed at the characters kissing their pillows to practice kissing boys because I wasn’t there yet. I talked to God a lot growing up in an interfaith household like the main character Margaret.
With Margaret and her friends worrying about kissing boys, buying bras, and getting periods, the 1970 book has enjoyed a revival with a new film in theaters amid the latest banned books movement. Describing feelings many kids feel that many parents pretend are not there turned Judy into a best-selling author with Margaret revolutionizing the middle grade genre.
Judy Blume Forever, a new documentary on Amazon Prime Video about the author’s career, couples with the cinematic release of Margaret and the news of other forthcoming book-to-film adaptations like one for Forever…, the 1975 book that ushered in the young adult genre. In the documentary, Judy says the character of Margaret helped her dive deep to tell the story of a true American girl who is talking to God about the changes within her body and within her life.
The book was No. 60 on the list of most challenged books in the 1990s, according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. This was a result of the rise of book bans inside public and school libraries under the Reagan administration for most of the 1980s. The frequent mention of menstruation made the book a target.
Florida, for example, is currently moving a bill—coined the “Don’t Say Period” bill by some opponents—that restricts reproductive education at schools. Girls on average start their periods between ages 10 to 16, according to the National Institutes of Health. They need access to Margaret to feel less alone in their experiences, especially if they won’t be taught about what’s happening within their bodies.
What we’re seeing now resembles the peak of book bans from 40 years ago. News of these bans have been relatively quiet until the past two years where the volume is getting louder by the day.
The film version of Margaret grossed $6.8 million in its opening weekend, below expectations with mostly women buying tickets compared to girls, according to Deadline. So, maybe the story mostly resonates with the girls of previous decades, but it’s a win for a long-censored book getting attention from Hollywood.
Because of Margaret and her subsequent books, Judy became used to her work being challenged. But it seems we see her more publicly as she fights back against the growing lists of books being challenged due to authors following in her footsteps of writing authentic fiction for kids. The kids who grew up reading her books are now writing their own, except the controversial issues remain the same.
The film should have a DVD release, but will the DVD be banned from public and school libraries like the book? To get around the library or even the bookstore, the book could be bought online or the film could be found on a streaming service, but will the kids who are wondering about their worlds find a story like Margaret? That’s the constant concern in this moment.