The Waynesboro Middle School Library had exactly three copies of Judy Blume’s 1970
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I don’t remember who read it first, but in all honesty, it
was probably me. (I had the sort of friends that you talked to by the lockers, not the sort of
friends who were actually nice to you, so I read a lot of books to make up for it. It mostly did.)
Regardless of who read it first, though, all of the sixth-grade girls read it one after the other, at
varying speeds. Even at twelve, we’d already been ingrained – somehow, by someone – that our
changing bodies were things to be ashamed of, to talk about in whispers. Boys didn’t need to
know that we bled or that the straps of our new training bras cut our skinny shoulders. But we
knew. And Judy Blume, apparently, knew.
“I finished it,” Therese announced to me when I walked into Mrs. Atwood’s homeroom
science class. She held up the battered library copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I
held myself back from saying finally; Therese was a slow reader. “I love Margaret,” I said. “She
reminds me of me.” Therese laughed and rolled her eyes. She was allowed to wear mascara
already, and her eye-rolling always seemed so much more cutting because of those dark lashes.
“You’re not Margaret. You’re Laura Danker.” It did not occur to me to be offended because now
that she mentioned it, it was probably true. Laura Danker developed more quickly than all the
other girls, and she sat in the front row of all of her classes, and no one wanted to be her friend
because of some combination of those two things.
“Yeah,” I said, agreeing, because I had learned long ago that if you agreed with hurtful
comments that others made about you, they stung less. “But she turned out to be cool, in the
end.” Therese flipped her long blonde hair. “I think I’m Nancy.” I think you are, too, I wanted to
say but didn’t. Nancy was the alpha, the source of Margaret’s perpetual embarrassment over not
being developed enough or religious enough and the source of all the mean-spirited rumors about
my kindred spirit, Laura Danker. “She was definitely the prettiest,” Therese continues, and I
wonder how she could possibly know that after reading a novel with no pictures, but I conceded
internally that it was probably true. Pretty girls got away with more, and Nancy definitely got
away with a lot.
The other girls arrived to homeroom – Kristine with a K, Sara without the H – and we all
sat in a huddle near the window as we talked about Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. “I
thought the exercise they did was so funny,” Kristine with a K tells us, and she bends her
scrawny arms at the elbows and models the exercise Judy Blume’s “Pre-Teen Sensations” did
throughout the novel: “We must, we must, we must increase our bust.” Everyone burst into
giggles. “You must have done that exercise a lot,” Sara without the H says to me, and everyone
dissolves into laughter again, but I just feel frustrated.
The name of the book was Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Not All About My
Changing Body, not A Million and One Further Ways for Sixth Grade Girls to Cause Each Other
Even More Pain and Suffering. The book, while it certainly did talk about Margaret’s changing
body and burgeoning feelings for boys, mostly talked about Margaret’s journey to find religion –
not faith, as she already had plenty of that. “I liked that Margaret was trying to find God,” I told
them once they’d finished rehashing the novel’s Spin-the-Bottle scene. Therese smacked her
lime-green, tropical fruit scented gum before responding. “I didn’t like that she wasn’t a
Christian, honestly,” she said, as we sat there in the buckle of the Bible Belt. “It made me feel
That’s why I feel like Margaret is me, I wanted to say, but that wasn’t entirely true, either.
What I meant, but did not have the language to say at twelve, was that Margaret was who I
wanted to be.
My church had recently gotten its first female pastor, and I thought Sister Agnes was the
coolest. She picked me up from school on Tuesdays and she wore a black robe when she
preached on Sundays. Ever since she arrived, she’d talked a lot about prayer. She talked about
praying to God like you would talk about speaking to a friend. When I read Are You There God?
It’s Me, Margaret, all I could think was that Margaret had mastered the art of doing just that.
Margaret asked God to send her friends, she lamented to Him about the weirdness of her
changing body, and she told Him that she didn’t know quite what to think about Him at all.
Margaret, in short, kept it real with God, and she was not smited for it.
So, that evening, after Therese, Kristine with a K, and Sara without the H had long
forgotten Margaret in favor of Nickelodeon reruns, I decided to pray. I tried for a Sister Agnes
prayer, for a Margaret prayer. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I remember asking God
for a friend – a real friend, not a Therese.
It’s been nearly two decades since I read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, and I
still don’t claim to be much good at prayer. When I was twenty, I told God that, while I still
believed in Him (or at least hoped I did), I was too mad at Him to talk to Him for awhile. My
best friend and my beloved uncle had both been diagnosed with cancer, and I myself was in
therapy because my anxiety had begun to interfere with my ability to live life on my own terms.
Reading the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead felt like being assaulted because God
had chosen to be silent in the face of the death and dying all around me, so I quit reading the
I did the only thing I knew to do when confronted by the silence of God and the sickness
of my friends and my own mental illness: I started to read for pleasure again. I turned to Anne
Lamott’s memoirs, and I felt seen by her frank confession that while she believed in God, she
had at times resented Him for His silence in the midst of her suffering. She found her way back
to Him, time and time again, through laughter and writing and the devotion of kind friends, and
she gave me the strength to look for Him again when I was no less devastated but could
acknowledge that blaming God for my devastation did not lessen it.
Just as Anne Lamott and Judy Blume had promised me in their narratives of faith, God
was still there when I returned. Reading Anne during that longest of all springs reminded me of
Margaret and of Sister Agnes and of every other woman in my life, fictional and otherwise, who
had been candid about what it looks like to struggle with God and had, in turn, given me the
strength to do so myself. I couldn’t believe in a God that I couldn’t rail at and beg to, and so, in
some strange, small way, I feel that I perhaps should include Judy Blume when I thank God for
my mothers of the faith.
There were exactly three copies of Jane Eyre in the little apartment on East College
Street, and my roommate – a real friend, a delayed answer to that long-ago first prayer for a
friend inspired by Margaret – made me read it. Helen Burns remarked near the beginning of the
novel, “God is my Father; God is my Friend. I love Him, and I believe He loves me.” I do
believe it, although at times I have doubted it, doubt it now, and will doubt it again.
Taylor McKay Hathorn is a Mississippian by birth and a Jacksonian by choice, and you can read more of her work online at www.taylormckayhathorn.com.