Author: Judy Blume
Publisher: Dell Yearling Book
Publication Date: 1970
Audience: Grades 3-7
Summary: Margaret Simon has moved from New York City to Farbrook, New Jersey, anxious about a new home and a new school. As a 6th grader she has, as well, all the fears and questions that a pre-pubescent girl has: When can I wear a bra? When will I start my period? How do you kiss a boy? Will I seem weird to others? A deeper problem for Margaret is a religious one. She talks frequently with God in a natural, informal way about all her daily problems but she, unlike her three friends who go to church and synagogue, has no religion. And God seems to give no direction. Her parents, one Jewish, one Christian, practice no religion and will let Margaret choose. A strong influence in Margaret’s life is her Jewish grandmother, Sylvia, who exerts subtle pressure to draw her to the synagogue. Her conservative Christian grandparents have disowned her mother. Margaret’s school teacher is a beginning teacher, a man, who gives the class an assignment that allows her to explore her interest in religion. The year provides her with experiences that give her little direction in religious identity but cause her to give thanks to God.
Literary elements at work in the story: Margaret was first published in 1970, has been in print continuously ever since, and is still checked out frequently. Although tame by today’s standards, it has been one of the most banned books in libraries through the last four decades. Judy Blume is a very popular writer for both children and youth because she understands their concerns and writes simply and directly about them. This is a book that will appeal to middle school girls. In Margaret, the search for religious identity gets lost in the theme of entering puberty but this is largely the fault of the reader rather than the author.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? Farbrook is a white, upper middle class town. This is still the era when mothers stay home with children and fathers go into New York to work. Religious difference is a strong plot theme. A male 6th grade teacher is a novelty.
Theological Conversation Partners: Margaret deals with two themes that engage us. One is puberty when physical, psychological, and social development require us to think seriously about what it means to grow in wisdom, stature, and favor with our neighbors and God. (Lk.2:52) and how to deal with the ethical demands of this new world. The other is: how do we come to know God as we grow? Blume says nothing about how Margaret came to know and talk with God. Her mother has said, “God is a nice idea that belongs to everyone.” But Margaret has some things right: no problem is too small or personal to take to God; God listens. (Psalm 10:17; 17:6, Phil. 4:6) Her prayers are brief and honest. (Matt. 6:5-8) Margaret sees her physical maturity as an exciting and wonderful event.(Ps. 139:14), giving readers a chance to ponder the mystery that our bodies( 1 Cor. 5:19, 20) are temples of God’s Spirit, a gift from God. One of the persistent problems in middle school relationships is gossip; biblical words about an untamed tongue (James 3:5-8, Ex.20:16) and bearing false witness are plentiful. Here is an occasion to reflect on solitary, individual religious practice as opposed to faith lived in a community for as Margaret is seeking a religious identity she is actually seeking a community, a place of belonging. Her concluding letter about her school project raises serious questions about nurture in Christ and will be valuable for parents as well as youth.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Margaret talks with God frequently and naturally. What are some of the concerns that she brings to God?
- Some girls in high school mature earlier than others. How does this create a situation for jealousy and gossip? Who was more hurt by the gossip-Laura Danker or Margaret?
- How was Margaret affected by Nancy Wheeler’s lie? Can there be friendship without honesty?
- Margaret compared herself with her friends and with Laura and felt that she wasn’t normal. By what standard would you advise Margaret to judge herself?
- How did Margaret learn about God? Her mother has said, “God is a nice idea that is for everyone.” What do you think of that statement?
- What did Margaret know about God’s forgiveness?
- How did Margaret respond to the Synagogue service? Was she prepared to understand it?
- How did she respond to the Presbyterian service? What was she hoping for?
- How did she respond to the Christmas Eve service?
- Can you learn about a church by attending one worship service? How would you introduce Margaret to your church?
- What’s the difference between religion and a relationship with God?
- How have you learned about God? Has God been involved?
- Can you be a Christian by yourself?
This review is written by regular contributor Virginia Thomas.