Sunday, February 15, 2009

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

I feel that it's really important to mention that the copy I was reading was an updated copy - that is, Margaret's pads stuck to her underwear with adhesive, and she did not have to use a belt. I remember that the copy I read years ago was the 'classic' version, which didn't leave me as confused as I might have been, all things considered.

Also, I had misremembered a lot of things about this book. I had thought that Laura, the girl with the large breasts, was also the one with the sunburn. And that Margaret's grandparents overlap at her house. Neither of those things really matter, but it did made me think about how many books I'm carrying around with my head that aren't really true.

Anyway, the story is sort of complicated to describe. Margaret, a 12 year old girl with no fixed religion, moves to a small town in New Jersey where everyone is either Christian or Jewish. Margaret quickly makes friends with a group of girls (they call themselves the Pre-Teen Sensations, which, unless this was another rewrite, has held up remarkably well). The girls giggle and wonder over bras, boys, and periods, while Margaret carries on a personal quest to find religion. All the time she continues talking to God, and I really like the idea that you can have a relationship with God independant of any organized religion.

I never talked about my period with my friends, and bras were a giant source of embarrassment, and not pride, but I still have a fondness for this book. I didn't read Forever, another Judy Blume book, until I was much older, so this one is the one that hit me in my formative years. I'm glad that it's still out there for kids to look through, the kind of book that they might feel embarrassed about reading but still pour through anyway. I think that Margaret would have read this book, which in a twisty way is one of the best indicators of telling whether or not a story works.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

In the ten years or so since this book was first published (by MTV books, my edition was proud to tell me), this book has become a sort of Gen-next Catcher in the Rye. I think this was exactly the intention of the author, who name-checks not only that novel but a dozen other works of literature as it tries to claw its way into the coming of age niche. I'm not really complaining, though - it's hard to bag on a novel that has a character who actually reads.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower also has a Degrassi-esque quality in that one big Issue follows the other, including smoking, drugs, homosexuality, sex, teen pregnancy, abortion, abusive relationships, and others. Charlie, the narrator, maintains a kind of innocence throughout everything, even appearling to be be shocked - Shocked!- by the idea of masturbation, which he discovers at age 15. Charlie tells the story through a series of letters to an unidentified off-screen character, and it took me a good while to get into the flow of the story. I picked it up and put it down a few times before finally deciding to plow through, and I was glad that I did. The story isn't going to change my life, but it's the sort of one that might change someone's. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is number 10 on the ALA's list of the 10 most banned and challenged books of 2007-2008, which is how I came across the book and probably what motivated me to commit to it. I don't know how likely I'll be to look into what else Chbosky has read, but I'm happy that I've read this one.