Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

9781481409940_p0_v3_s260x420 Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

by Judy Blume

Reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was a rite of passage when I was a certain age, and I remember reading it several times over.  As my twin daughters are approaching 11 and already experiencing some of the ups and downs of adolescence, I’ve been thinking back on that beloved book and wondering, first, how I might perceive it now as an adult, and second, if it would be a good choice for my daughters at this point.  Rather than digging my old hardback copy out of the dusty box on a high shelf in the garage where I’m pretty sure it’s located, I bought a new paperback copy to read, and then to pass on to my girls, depending.

Two things I worried about when I started re-reading it were: was it God-heavy? (It was hard to remember.) And, was it outdated?  I mean, let’s face facts: this book is now FORTY-FIVE years old.

Well, I loved it, I really did.  Yes, some things about it are outdated – like Margaret’s mother setting her hair in rollers (nobody does that anymore, do they?), “supper parties,” and plaid dresses with loafers.  But those are superficial things.  The story itself is timeless – a young girl caught in that angsty middle place of no longer being a little kid, but not quite being a young woman yet – watching her body change and wanting it to hurry up and change faster, navigating friendships and high emotions, and suddenly realizing that boys aren’t so yucky.

It’s also not at all God-heavy, as I feared it might be.  If anything, it speaks to the confusion and ambivalence kids and teens may have about God and religion.

I cried at the end when Margaret finally (finally?!) gets her period – even though I remembered that part, so it wasn’t a surprise.  Honestly, it just brought up a lot of emotions for me – remembering what this book meant to me when I was that age, remembering getting my own first period (and being thrilled, not scared!), and anticipating the changes coming down the pike for my own daughters.

In writing this book all those years ago, Blum really had her finger on the pulse of girls of a certain age.

I handed the book over to Daisy, one of my twins, this morning, and by lunch time she was halfway through it.  May it mean as much to her as it did to me.

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

6609765 Out of My Mind
by Sharon Draper


After having numerous friends (mainly parents of children with disabilities) rave about this book, I read it with much anticipation.  I kept waiting for it to grab me, but it never really did.  It’s safe to assume that I’m in the minority in that I did not love this book.

Written for the preteen/adolescent set, it’s a fictional narrative by an eleven-year old girl by the name of Melody who is profoundly disabled by cerebral palsy.


I’m surrounded by thousands of words.  Maybe millions.

Cathedral.  Mayonnaise.  Pomegranate.

Mississippi.  Neapolitan.  Hippopotamus.

Silky.  Terrifying.  Iridescent.

Tickle.  Sneeze.  Wish.  Worry.

Words have always swirled around me like snowflakes – each one delicate and different, each one melting untouched in my hands.

Deep within me, words pile up in huge drifts.  Mountains of phrases and sentences and connected ideas.  Clever expressions.  Jokes.  Love songs . . . .

I have never spoken one single word.  I am almost eleven years old.”

Melody is wheelchair bound and not only can she not speak, she cannot feed herself or dress herself or bathe herself.  She is unable to use the bathroom by herself.  Most people assume because of her physical limitations and absence of speech that she must also have severe mental limitations, and she spends her days in a special ed classroom where a procession of teachers with low expectations parade in and out.

Melody is bored and frustrated.  She wants to fit in.  She wants to have friends.  She wants to say what’s on her mind, but her words are all stuck inside her mind – until she acquires a speech device that finally allows her to express herself.  It’s a dream come true – but will it change Melody’s life and people’s perceptions about her in the way she hopes?

I was tempted to call it a “feel good story” until about three-fourths of the way through.  Though it’s written for kids in the 9 – 12 age group, I appreciated the fact that it’s not all wrapped up with a pretty bow at the end.

That said, there were several things that bother me about the story: most of the kids that populate the book are downright obnoxious, and it was difficult to like any of them.  I suppose this was at least partly intentional on the author’s part in order to create a “Melody vs. The World” dichotomy.  There is one girl who sort of befriends Melody, who is clearly conflicted, and she was probably the most likeable and believable character.  It felt like the author was unsure of the era in which the story takes place – she has Wiis and iTunes existing alongside MySpace, which as far as I know has been dead for years.  While not a major thing, it was a distraction.  The kids used “hip” lingo that I’ve never heard (do kids really say, “That’s so tight!” or “That’s what’s up!“?  Maybe I’m out of touch – or maybe it’s a geographical thing – none of my kids have ever used those phrases), so that felt unrealistic.  The author does not seem to have a grasp of the difference between “inclusion” and “mainstreaming” in the realm of school, and nothing seems to be decided by way of IEPs.  Also, aides for disabled students are really awesome and involved and  attached, almost members of the family.  Yeah, right.  Not that there aren’t good aides out there, but I thought the author’s portrayal – especially of Melody’s aide – was a pretty major departure from reality.

Oh!  And the classmate with Down syndrome!  I’m convinced the author read something with a title like, “Stereotypical Down Syndrome Traits.”  Always happy.  Hugs indiscriminately.  Possesses sixth sense about other people’s moods and emotions.  Gag.

What bothered me most of all, however, was the same old valuing of people based on intelligence.  Melody, you see, while profoundly physically disabled, is pretty much a genius.  Even she says that she hates the word “retard.”  I got the distinct feeling it wasn’t because she felt it was mean or derogatory or marginalizing, but rather because she’s not “retarded.”  “She may be severely crippled, but at least she’s not retarded!” the author seemed to be saying.  I’m so tired of this message – so tired of our society’s insistence on valuing people based on intelligence and potential to achieve, rather than on humanity.

There was also the fact that Melody’s parents, while loving, fierce advocates, seem to have no qualms about expressing – to Melody! – that, yeah, she’s defective, broken, messed up.  When her mom is expecting another baby, everyone is worried that the new baby will also have CP.  “We love you, Melody, but we sure hope and pray that this new baby isn’t screwed up like you,” they pretty much tell her.

It was frustrating and disheartening.

I can see the pluses of this book for the age group it’s intended for – by allowing kids a glimpse into the mind of a child with disabilities, it might serve to demystify disability to an extent and foster compassion.  However, I feel that the positive impact it could have is mostly canceled out by the negative messages about disability.  I’m not sure I would even recommend this book to my own kids, who have a sibling with a disability.

[Bracing myself for comments expressing outrage.]

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

the-age-of-miracles-book-cover The Age of Miracles: A Novel
by Karen Thompson Walker

Sometimes in life, things happen that leave us wondering how it is that the world can keep turning.  What would happen, though, if the world kept turning, but slower?  In this novel, Karen Thompson Walker imagines just such a world – a world in which the days and nights grow progressively longer because the earth begins to rotate more slowly by degrees, first adding mere minutes to each “day” and progressing until days (and nights) last for three, four, even five times the conventional twenty-four hours.   The effects on people, wildlife, the food supply, tides, and life as anyone knew it are nearly catastrophic.  And yet . . . life has a way of going on.

Narrated by a now adult Julia (assuring the reader that the worst didn’t happen – at least not yet) recalling the year she was eleven and “The Slowing” began, this is not a science-fiction story.  It’s not even quite a story of a dystopian future.  It’s a coming of age story – a story about how, even when the whole world is thrown off kilter, spouses still commit infidelities, adolescent friendships still suffer their dramas, there are still training bras to buy and secrets to keep, and there is still the miracle of first love.  Adolescence is still an amazing time of life.

I really enjoyed this book, although to me Julia and her friends seemed more like thirteen and fourteen-year olds than eleven and twelve-year olds.  Deftly imagined, it brings into sharp focus the things that are out of our control and remind us how small and mortal we are as a human race at the mercy of the universe, while also beautifully revealing the larger than life growing pains that adolescence brings.

The Boy’s Body Book by Kelli Dunham and Steven Bjorkman

the-boys-body-book_1The Boy’s Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up YOU (Boys World Books)
by Kelli Dunham and Steven Bjorkman

PUBERTY.  It’s a rare parent who can utter that word aloud without shuddering, or at least squirming a little.  Eventually, though, we all find ourselves face to face with people who resemble our sweet children, but who seem to have been taken over by cranky aliens.

I have found myself in just such a situation lately with my second son, age 10 1/2.  It’s not full-blown puberty yet, but it’s a-comin’; oh, the mood swings!  The tantrums!  The storming off!  And while I pride myself on being able to have frank conversations with my kids about most things under the sun, sometimes it helps to have a book at one’s disposal to get the conversation started, or to further the conversation.


I actually stumbled across this book on Amazon while I was searching for something of a similar nature geared towards girls, because my twins aren’t far behind.  I’m really glad I found this book for boys.  It covers all the important stuff – stuff, I’m pretty sure, that is covered in what used to be the Fifth Grade Growth and Development Film shown at school, but which is now, apparently the Sixth Grade Growth and Development Film (probably a year too late, since by sixth grade, most boys are knee-deep in a lot of these changes already) in our school district.  It covers everything from body odor to body hair to peer pressure, to feelings – all in straightforward, down-to-earth language.


I read it cover to cover in about an hour, and will be leaving it in my son’s room for him to read at his leisure.  I’m hopeful that it will ease his mind about what he’s experiencing, and provide a springboard for further conversation between him and me, him and his dad, or even him and his older brother.

Highly recommend.