The iconic coming-of-age novel Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume is considered one of the most banned books in the U.S. If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: Are You There God?
It’s Me, Margaret has been frequently banned or challenged in schools and libraries because of references to female puberty, menstruation, and sexuality that some consider inappropriate or obscene.
In this article, we will dive deep into the reasons why Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret has faced censorship, the themes and scenes that caused controversy, the history of bans on the book, and the perspectives on both sides of the debate over whether this classic novel deserves a place on school shelves.
Overview and Background of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
Summary of the novel’s plot and themes
The classic 1970 coming-of-age novel by celebrated author Judy Blume follows 11-year-old Margaret Simon as she grapples with moving from New York City to suburban New Jersey. Key themes include navigating puberty, seeking religious identity, and finding acceptance among new peers.
Margaret ponders spirituality while awaiting her first period, interacts with girls having conversations about bras and boys, and ultimately embraces this transition into adolescence.
When it was published and author Judy Blume’s intentions
Judy Blume published Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in 1970. The book was Blume’s third novel and one of the first prominent young adult books to frankly address puberty. Blume said her intention was to offer support to preteen girls going through changes by fostering open, honest conversations.
She wanted girls to realize that such transitions are normal and they are not alone in what they experience.
Reception, sales figures and status as a classic coming-of-age story
The novel received critical praise and strong sales upon release as readers connected with its candid, personal portrayal of puberty’s challenges. It has remained popular for over five decades, selling over 5 million copies by 2000.
Many regard it as a pioneering coming-of-age story that balanced a relatable and resonant narrative with one of the first positive, non-shameful depictions of female adolescence. It continues to resonate with young readers facing the threshold of womanhood.
However, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret has also frequently been banned from schools and libraries due to objections over sexual themes and references to feminine hygiene products and sexuality – yielding debates over censorship that continue today.
Reasons Why Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret Has Been Banned
References to female puberty and menstruation
A primary reason that the novel “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” has faced various censorship challenges and bans, especially in school settings, is due to its frank depictions of topics related to female puberty, such as menstruation and breast development.
The main character, Margaret, openly discusses getting her first period and buying her first bras throughout the book in a way not typically seen in literature aimed at adolescent audiences.
While some argue these topics can promote important conversations around female biology and maturation, others counter that the level of detail regarding Margaret’s bodily changes and excited preparations for getting her period make some readers uncomfortable and are inappropriate for children entering or going through puberty.
Discussions of sexuality and bras
In addition to exploring a girl’s first menstruation, “Are You There God?” also contains extended discussions around bras, breasts, and sexuality as Margaret looks forward to physically developing like some of her peers.
There are even entire sections dedicated to her experimenting with bra styles and inserts.
Supporters of keeping the book widely available believe these topics reflect normal curiosities and anxieties for girls Margaret’s age. However, the specificity around bras and comparisons between girls’ body types have led some critics to argue the content overly-sexualizes young adolescents.
There are debates around whether the novel encourages unnecessary concern about physiques at an impressionable age.
Use of profane language and slang terms
While considered relatively tame by today’s standards, Margaret and her friends also casually use certain profane words and slang terms for body parts that were considered too suggestive or shocking in the 1970s and onwards in literature intended for pre-teens.
Advocates for upholding the novel’s availability think the language realistically reflects how young girls speak with friends during this transitional time. But many find the irreverent phrases dated or unnecessarily vulgar for middle school reading lists, especially for those adhering to traditionally conservative values.
History of Bans and Challenges Against the Book
Notable banned book incidents in schools
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret has frequently appeared on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books. Since its publication in 1970, it has been banned or challenged in schools across the United States for its frank descriptions of female puberty and unabashed embrace of sexuality.
Here are some notable incidents over the years:
- In 1977, an Oklahoma school banned the book for being “amoral, indecent, and obscene.” Parents said it would give their kids “moral problems.”
- In 1980, an Illinois school board banned it after deeming the book “completely filthy and disgusting.”
- In the early 1990s, some Florida schools removed it from reading lists for fear that it would promote witchcraft, as Margaret prays to God but does not specify it as the Christian God.
Court cases over bans
There have been several court cases challenging bans on Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret:
- In 1982, a federal appeals court ruled that an Illinois school district violated students’ First Amendment rights by removing the book without justification.
- In 1993, parents sued a Florida school district over the book’s removal, but the court upheld the school’s decision.
- In 1999, a Texas parent sued to remove the book, but the court denied the request, defending the book’s merit.
So court rulings have been mixed. While courts often defend the book on First Amendment grounds, they have also allowed schools discretion to remove the book if deemed educationally unsuitable.
Arguments from parents, educators and religious groups
Here are some common arguments from those in favor of banning Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret:
- Some parents argue the book’s depiction of adolescence is inappropriate or overly sexual for young readers.
- Some religious conservatives believe the book’s view of spirituality and ambiguous image of God could be damaging to kids’ faith.
- Some educators believe classroom discussions of puberty and menstruation could make students uncomfortable.
However, supporters of the book cite the following counterpoints:
- The book provides an honest portrayal of puberty that can help girls feel less alone.
- Banning books limits student access to literature, an impediment to learning.
- Removing controversial books implicitly communicates those topics are taboo, harmful to open dialogue.
Debates over Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret illustrate the tension between parents’ wishes to shield children and educators’ duty to expose them to diverse ideas. With open communication and flexibility, compromises can often be found.
Debating Whether the Book Deserves to be Banned
Arguments that the book should be removed from schools
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret has faced criticism and calls for banning due to its frank depictions of female puberty. Some argue the book is inappropriate for pre-teen readers and should be removed from elementary and middle school curriculums and libraries.
Here are some of the main arguments:
- The book contains mature themes like menstruation and sexuality that some believe are not suitable for young readers.
- Margaret’s open conversations about bras, periods, and boys may make some parents uncomfortable.
- Critics argue the book goes against traditional values and promotes rebellious behavior in girls.
- Some religious groups take issue with Margaret questioning and exploring different faiths.
- The slumber party scene where the girls practice kissing and imagine their future breast sizes has been called salacious.
Defense of the book’s literary merit and coming-of-age themes
While some view Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret as scandalous and inappropriate, others argue it has significant literary value and offers an important perspective on female puberty. Here are some defenses of the book:
- The book is acclaimed for its honest, authentic portrayal of a young girl going through puberty.
- Margaret’s experiences with her changing body, first bra, first period, and first crushes are relatable for pre-teen girls.
- The open discussions about puberty help eliminate stigma and shame for young female readers.
- It promotes healthy dialogues about puberty between mothers and daughters.
- The book is praised for its balanced religious exploration and Margaret’s spiritual awakening.
- It provides an insightful look at 1950s and 60s American suburbia and societal pressures on girls.
Supporters argue Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret has literary merit as a seminal coming-of-age novel. While it broaches sensitive topics, they contend it does so thoughtfully and offers an honest portrayal of female adolescence.
Many believe the book’s themes of growing up and finding one’s identity remain relevant today.
Impact and Significance of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret Today
Lasting cultural influence despite controversy
Published in 1970, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume was groundbreaking in its frank yet sensitive portrayal of puberty and tweendom. Despite frequent challenges and attempts to ban it from libraries due to its open discussion of sexuality and religion, the novel has maintained an enduring cultural relevance.
With over 8 million copies sold, Margaret is widely considered a YA classic that helped pave the way for realistic coming-of-age stories. Its influence can be seen in more recent hits like The Hunger Games and The Fault in Our Stars which also tackle complex ‘taboo’ topics like sex, death, and questioning faith.
While some argue the book is inappropriate for tweens today due to outdated cultural references, many believe its core themes remain highly resonant. Issues of changing friendships, negotiating parental expectations, body positivity, and finding one’s identity continue to deeply resonate with young readers navigating the often awkward tween years.
Importance for generations of young readers
For over 50 years, Margaret has provided a sense of connection, understanding and validation for generations of young readers, especially girls. At a vulnerable time when many feel isolated in their struggles, Judy Blume’s warm, honest portrait of a girl on the cusp of adolescence has been a critical touchstone.
In an era when open discussion of menstruation was rare, Margaret presented it as a normal part of development, helping to destigmatize it. The famous shower scene where Margaret first gets her period has been dubbed an “absolutely breakthrough literary moment” by NPR.
Beyond breaking taboos, the book conveys the universality and poignancy of tweendom. Margaret’s authentic voice reassures readers they aren’t alone in this turbulent transitional time. Her realistic mix of anxiety, excitement, insecurity and wonderment at growing up resonates deeply.
While some references may be outdated, Margaret’s emotional truth and compassionate message of self-understanding continue to provide comfort. This rare balance of sensitivity and honesty is why so many hold the book dear long after turning the last page.
While Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret continues to be one of the most banned books in the U.S. decades after its release, its cultural significance is undisputed. For generations of young girls, Judy Blume’s frank discussions of puberty, sexuality, and identity resonated deeply.
But the same qualities that make the novel a touchstone for many readers have also led it to be deemed inappropriate and obscene by some parents and schools. The debate over Are You There God? ‘s place in libraries and classrooms remains heated, but shows no signs of diminishing the book’s landmark status.
Blume’s willingness to explore controversial topics through the eyes of an earnest, questioning young protagonist left a mark on literature and society. Margaret’s story will likely continue sparking discussion, disagreement and relatability far into the future.