Sunday, 18 May 2014

Dress Down Sunday: Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

published 1970



LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES






[11 year old Margaret needs to wear a bra to fit in with the other girls at her new school]

My mother drove me to a shopping centre where there was a Lord & Taylor. I had on my blue plaid dress and my loafers without socks and three Band-Aids on my blisters.

First we went to the ladies’ lingerie department where my mother told the saleslady we wanted to see a bra for me. The saleslady took one look and told my mother we’d be better off in the teen department where they had bras in very small sizes. My mother thanked the lady and I almost died! We went down on the escalator and headed for the teen shop. They had a whole display of underwear there. Bras and panties and slips to match. All I ever wore was white underpants and regular undershirts. Sometimes a slip if I was going to a party. My mother went to the counter and told the saleslady we were interested in a bra. I stood back and pretended not to know a thing.


observations: I’d never read this book, and when I did recently (for a shoe reference, the sockless loafers, for this Guardian piece) it was a revelation. I think I’d always assumed it was a religious book, and I still don’t think the title does the book any favours, it sounds a bit desperate. But as generations of young women can and do attest, the content is another matter entirely. The book is a delight: a straightforward story of the year in which Margaret turns 12. She starts a new school, makes friends, tries to fit in, worries about growing up, periods and bras, has an absolutely fine relationship with her parents, wonders what religion might be about. She would reassure any young person that everything she thinks is completely normal. And the book is hugely entertaining and funny, with its descriptions of school, social events, and the girls’ secret club. Everything is reported in quite a deadpan way, but as if it really might be a young girl’s diary, not with an adult author winking in the background.

And it’s hard to think of anyone not sympathizing with Margaret’s being ejected from the grown-up lingerie department.

The picture is the (adult) lingerie department at Macy’s in New York.

10 comments:

  1. Moira, I have never read Judy Blume and I enjoy reading books that delight and are free of any kind of encumbrance. I will read your piece in The Guardian.

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    1. Thanks Prashant. I think I'm late to discovering Judy Blume too!

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  2. Moira - Judy Blume has been an integral part of the pre-teen/teen experience in the US for a long time. And this one is an absolute classic. I believe Blume captures brilliantly that awkward betwixt/between feeling adolescents often have. As you say, the style is very straightforward, too. A great choice!

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    1. Thanks Margot - I think she arrived in the UK too late for me, but I'm very glad teenagers all over the world can have the benefit now: books that are fun to read and also reassuring during those difficult years....

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  3. Apologies, she can stay undiscovered as far as my reading is concerned. Is there anything less I'd like to read about than 12 years old girls and bras and periods? Hmm ..... may be Morris dancing and embroidery.

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    1. No surprises there, though perhaps your daughters read them...?

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    2. Hmm, not sure possibly at some point though I seem to remember more Jacqueline Wilson's around the house.

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    3. Someone else was asking me how they compare - Wilson is much more English and her families are much more dysfunctional! This is me years ago trying to explain J Wilson to America: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2005/10/who_is_jacqueline_wilson.html

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  4. I don't think I ever read Judy Blume, and I probably won't. Your article about Jacqueline Wilson was very interesting. I probably won't read those either, but I do like the sound of them. I am currently reading Among Others by Jo Walton, about a girl of about the same age (she is looking into buying her first bra), told via diary entries. I am liking it, but my overall reaction will probably depend on how the second half is. And interestingly, it is a similar story, new school, trying to fit in. Except it is a fantasy book and she has family issues.

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    1. When my children were younger, I was very interested in what was available to them, and I wrote about children's books sometimes for the magazine I worked for. I guess not so much now. But, I think you've mentioned Jo Walton before - I have a book by her waiting on my TBR pile...

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