Publication:

Manawatu Guardian - 2021-07-22

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I must I must I must read . . .

NEWS

Judith Lacy Opinion

“It was a dark and stormy night.” “Once upon a time a prince rode in to town.” Forget those cliche´ d story openings. “Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret” is both the opening lines of Judy Blume’s beloved young adults novel and its title. It must be about 40 years since I first read the book and those lines have stayed with me ever since. They evoke so many thoughts. Does God exist? Should we bargain with him? Can he help girls longing to develop physically? If God does exist, wouldn’t he know it was Margaret talking to him? I also remember the exercises Margaret and her friends did to try and get their breasts to grow. As they moved their arms, they chanted “I must, I must, I must increase my bust.” Are You There, God? was first published in 1970, coincidentally the year I was born. I’ve just re-read it and, except for the references to Playboy and sun tanning, it stands the test of time. I don’t remember getting my first bra but I do remember boys at school sneaking up behind us and pulling the straps. I also remember, with embarrassment, calling one of my best friends Boobs. Like Margaret, I was jealous she was more developed than me in that department. What struck me as an adult reading Are You There, God? is one of the main themes of the book is 11-year-old Margaret feeling she had to decide if she’s a Christian or Jew. Her father was Jewish and her mother Christian. Her mother’s parents didn’t want a Jewish son-in-law so Herb and Barbara eloped. They decided to raise Margaret as “not anything”. Margaret decides to make religion her year-long school project. Margaret and her parents have just moved from New York to New Jersey when the book opens. They now have a lawn and Herb, who is in insurance, is determined to mow the lawn himself. What happens when he tries is one of my favourite parts of the book. Men and their pride! I have a terrible habit of starting books and not finishing them, but young adult books are shorter and easier reads. It does mean I’m not adding to my vocabulary, but hey, I’m getting out of my editor head for a while. Give it a go. Another of my favourite books as a child was Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown. Stanley Lambchop is squashed flat by a noticeboard while sleeping and realises he can have all sorts of adventures such as mailing himself to distance parts. I loved the idea of how a whole new world opens up for Stanley. In Stanley, Flat Again! Stanley was troubled and sent to the new guidance counsellor, Mr Redfield. I love this exchange. “Different? How do you feel different, would you say?” Stanley wondered how Mr Redfield could be a good guidance counsellor if he had both terrible eyesight and a terrible memory. “Well, I’m the only one in my class who’s flat,” he said. “The whole school, actually.” From my recollections, having a dig at authority figures is a feature of young adult books. I still enjoy that as an adult! I feel extremely fortunate I grew up in a house where there were always books, albeit some with squashed carrots on the pages. Mum regularly took us to the library and her father was a librarian. Not having any sisters and my only girl cousins being not yet born when I first met Margaret and the other already a mother, Blume’s book gave me a sense of not being alone with all the challenges of growing up. The last words go to Blume. “Some things never change — families, friends, school, all the firsts in your life.”

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