In 1970, a ground-breaking young adult novel tackling puberty, menstruation and religion hit the shelves,
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by renowned author Judy Blume, was named outstanding book of the year by the New York Times that year, and in the decades that followed, the book received various accolades and awards.
Now, more than 50 years later, the book has been adapted into a film. And as the film Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is released this month, a documentary about Blume entitled Judy Blume Forever is also set to premiere on Amazon Prime.
Can a story that broke ground in the 1970s still be relevant today? Vicki Neilson, a librarian with the Greater Victoria Public Library, says yes.
Neilson sat down for an interview with CBC’s Gregor Craigie, host of On The Island, ahead of the film’s premiere.
On The Island6:36Hear about two movies celebrating the life and legacy of author Judy Blume
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What did this book do for a generation of girls coming of age in the 1970s?
Well, I mean, let’s face it, today’s world is a very different place from the 70s, but you know, we all have the same basic challenges of growing up: there’s peer pressure and puberty and friendship.
I think girls, then and now, felt that they could identify with Margaret, and they don’t feel so alone. It gave them a sense of belonging, and they realize there’s no shame in changing bodies.
And perhaps some of the questions that they were a little too scared to ask the parents or teachers or whoever, you know, got answered through reading her book back then and now.
What did the book mean to you growing up?
It’s interesting. I recently reread it, and it had a little different meaning for me these days than it did 35 years ago. But, I realized that it clearly has meaning for girls today. It’s the same challenge. It’s the same feelings. It’s the same. I remember reading that book so clearly when I was 12.
Are you going to see the movie?
Yes! I think I have to.
What’s it like to be talking about this book that deals with intimate body issues at a time when book bans are happening in the U.S.?
I mean, it’s perfect timing, I guess. I listened to the Tom Power interview when he interviewed Judy, and she was saying that when she wrote it, it didn’t even enter her mind that there were any controversial topics in the book. It was just part of growing up, and that’s what she went through. So I found that really interesting.
And now, in today’s world, it’s being banned or challenged all over the place, in particular in the United States. I talked to our circulation department, and they said we haven’t been challenged at our particular library system since 2004 and maybe not even before 2004. That’s just as far back as we can go. It’s definitely an interesting time. I mean, really, it’s puberty. I think there’s a segment of the population that thinks if kids don’t read these things, then it won’t happen to them. We all know that’s not true.
I wonder how you think it might resonate with young readers today. Do you think that, in some ways, they might be mystified that this was breaking new ground, so to speak, back in the day?
Probably. There’s a whole religious aspect to it. I don’t know how kids, 12-year-olds, 11-year-olds feel about religion these days. There’s parts of the book that I will be very curious to see if it does resonate with kids or how it resonates with kids.
I almost feel like the book has all the same issues that young women go through, but it seemed like such a simpler time, like that whole thing we laugh about, you know, kids going out all day and coming back when the street lights came on kind of thing. I feel like our world isn’t really like that. It seems a bit simple and I would be really curious to hear what the young kids do say about it.