Margaret (age 11) has just moved from NYC to New Jersey, and is trying to cope with the change and to fit in at her new school. Already she’s different: Her parents do not have any religion and so Margaret doesn’t either, all due to the fact that her mom was Christian and her father was Jewish, and both of their families got pretty upset when they married. Between working out her religious preferences and dealing with awkward female preteen stuff, Margaret’s life feels pretty complicated to her.
This book is one of the most challenged/banned books ever, and I can understand why. I don’t agree, but I understand. There’s a lot of frank and honest talk among the girls about various parts of puberty, and they are rather obsessed with that stuff. This is realistic. Most girls worry about when they’re going to change and how it’s going to feel and whether or not they’re normal. I remember that from my childhood, and I don’t think I know anyone who didn’t obsess in some way or another. Still, as a parent, the book made me slightly uncomfortable with how honest and realistic it was. I would swallow my discomfort, though, if I had daughters who wanted to read the book. I think it would be a good book for them to read. Of course, I don’t have daughters, I only have sons, and I’m not sure I’d just go handing the book to them.*
The most interesting thing for me, though, was learning about cultural history. The book was published in 1970, so it’s almost 40 years old. Modern versions have been updated, but the copy I have is pretty old, so it still has a lot of old cultural references. I learned about women’s issues and clothing from back then (and am real thankful for technological advances…). I learned that back then, people who took home food from restaurants were looked down on for being poor, and that doggie bags were literally meant for dogs. That concept is completely foreign to me. Also, all the kids were laughing and giggling when their teacher came in and wrote his name on the board, and I couldn’t figure out why until a page later when I found out it was because he was a male teacher (and a male teacher was very unusual). This book made me realize how different 1970 is from today, or even from when I was 11.
Plus, there was the accidental discovery that this book probably inspired the Lords of Acid song, “I must increase my bust.” Who knew?
My only real complaint about the book is that it ends way too abruptly, and the last paragraph is completely out of the blue. It makes no sense, and it could have if there had been a good lead-up to it. I don’t want to explain more and give away spoilers, but I felt like that last bit was just tacked on and made no sense. There was no closure on most of the issues of the book, which also bothered me, and I’m not sure Margaret really had a chance to grow as a person. It seemed like she might, but that the book would have needed to go on longer to really know for sure.
Mostly, though, I appreciated reading this book in an academic sense, to get a feel for 1970s culture and to understand more about banned/challenged books.
*Note from 2014: At the time of writing this, my children were very young and had not grown into the tween ages addressed in this book. By the time they did, my ideas on what was appropriate for them had obviously matured. Even though I have all boys, I wouldn’t have any problem with any of them reading this book.