Lizzie Skurnick on “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”

The reading project Summer of Shelf Discovery is based on Lizzie Skurnick’s reading memoir about re-reading children’s and young adult books from one’s youth. In Chapter 2, Girls on the Verge, guest author Meg Cabot wrote about Margaret. But Shelf Discovery came out of Fine Lines, a series of columns that Skurnick wrote for the website Jezebel, and it’s there that Skurnick wrote about Margaret:

For the entire span of this column, there has never been a time when I could not return back to both the moment in time when I read the book as well as re-experience exactly what it was like to do so. But in re-reading AYTGIMM, I was deeply disturbed to find I couldn’t do either….

But on this return – the events of Margaret’s life seemed thin to me, and her concerns so very distant. Rather than feeling like I could reexperience everything with her, I felt nothing so much as if I were spying.

I felt similarly when I re-read AYTGIMM. I felt like I was watching Margaret’s story unfold, rather than feeling it. I appreciated it, at times I enjoyed it, but along with a denouement it lacks a certain something that I find hard to put into words. Something that makes me feel or think on a different level? I agree with Skurnick when she writes:

there is nothing thin about the events of Margaret’s life, and nothing small about her concerns. There is nothing more charged than the year we girls start to think about sex. (Margaret doesn’t talk to God because she’s religious – she talks to him because she can’t figure out who else could safely hold all this powerful information.)

She wonders if the reason she can’t experience the book along with Margaret this time is that she’s no longer a girl on the verge:

Because, like any club, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” might be an institution made for a certain kind of member during a certain kind of time, and this old lady has no more business being there than Moose Freed does listening at the door. (After all, now I’m closer to grandma Sylvia Simon’s age – ACK! – than Margaret’s.)

And Amy at New Century Reading ends her entry on Margaret in a similar way:

I’m glad I had the chance to revisit this book, although I confess I’m pretty sure I’ll never read it again. It’s a fine book and I would still recommend it to girls at this age, but it doesn’t hold up as well for adults,

For those of you who re-read Margaret, or remember reading Margaret–do you think it’s a book that was important as a girl, but not when you’re older? To paraphrase Blume: was that then, and this is now?

4 Responses to “Lizzie Skurnick on “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret””

  1. Amy Says:

    Well, you know my opinion already. :-) But this raises the question of: has the author transcended the genre? Why is Harriet a good book for adults (and Mixed-Up Files, among others) and this one not?

  2. girldetective Says:

    As you know, there’s a lot of disagreement about whether Harriet is a good book, for adults OR children. (My current theory: the Harriet lovers have meaner streaks than the dislikers.) I think it also can be phrased as what is the difference between a story one reads for nostalgia’s sake, and one that still has something to give, all these years later.

  3. Amy Says:

    Who you callin’ mean???

    I’m also finding it interesting to read books like these while simultaneously reading more current YA, like Godless.

  4. Alice@Supratentorial Says:

    I’ve found the discussion on Margaret really interesting. I read it for this challenge also and had a more simple reaction. I enjoyed it and felt like I was revisiting my old self (the me that read Margaret). But I do agree that it’s more of a book to read as an adult for nostalgic reasons than for really enjoying it as an adult.

    I think the difference is that Margaret is so much about a particular time in life and the issues that surround that time. It’s impossible to read without seeing from the hindsight that it will all be ok. Yes, Nancy might not be a great friend but you know Margaret will go on to have other better friends that really get her. Yes, getting you period is a big thing for the first time but soon it will just become routine, even for Margaret.

    I would contrast that with books for kids or young adults that are about issues that aren’t as specific to a certain time in life. You could almost imagine Claudia or Harriet as an adult (not quite but almost) struggling with some of the same issues.