It’s a pre-teen, coming of age book about an eleven year old girl trying to handle a series of changes in her life. Margaret is growing up, and she has a hard time talking about puberty with her friends, or her fear that she may not be like other girls her age. So Margaret confides in God. Margaret talks to God about everything from her anxiety about fitting in at a new school, to her concern that her breasts aren’t growing fast enough. It’s charming, innocent and funny.
I recently bought this book for my daughter, Bryn. She loves to read and since this was a favorite book for me when I was her age, we have been reading it together. We sit on Bryn’s bed at night and take turns reading chapters to each other.
I remember reading this book as a ten year old girl and being fascinated because the characters openly talk about puberty and periods and their budding interest in boys. As a mother of a ten year old daughter, reading this book again gave me a completely different perspective. Keep in mind that I haven’t read this book in 30 years, and aside from the main storyline, I had forgotten quite a few important details.
There were multiple pop-culture references in the book that were appropriate for the time period and seemed to be no big deal when I was a kid. But having to explain those references to Bryn was not something I was prepared for. For example, in the book, Margaret and her friends swipe a copy of her dad’s Playboy Magazine so they can see the centerfold and speculate how their own breasts and bodies may look one day. As Bryn and I are reading this chapter, and Margaret and her friends are staring with wonder at the eighteen year-old centerfold, I’m thinking, “Oh dear God, what can of worms have I just opened?” And of course, Bryn looks at me with wide, startled eyes and says, “What is Playboy Magazine, and do eighteen year-olds really take their clothes off for pictures?!” Shit.
Oh wait, there’s more…
In that same chapter, Margaret’s friend sneaks a copy of her dad’s medical anatomy book, and the girls giggle and laugh as they look up pictures of the male genitalia. There are also scenes in the book where Margaret stuffs her training bra with cotton balls, and she and her friends attend their first co-ed party, where they have to play spin the bottle and go into the bathroom with a boy for two minutes and receive their first kiss. In another scene, the girls do arm and chest exercises that they believe will help their boobs to grow. And while they do these exercises, they chant “We must, we must, we must increase our bust!”
Bryn vacillates between laughing uncontrollably and hiding under the covers with embarrassment as we read together. I vacillate between sweating, stammering out my answers to her questions, and taking deep, calming breaths so I don’t shout, “You will never play spin the bottle! Do you hear me? Never!”
At one point, I had a moment of terror when I imagined her going to school and telling her friends about the juicier details of the book. I let her know that because we were reading this book together, and I felt she was mature enough to handle it, I was willing to answer her questions and be honest with her. But I couldn’t make that decision for her friend’s parents, so she had to agree to keep these discussions between us. I said, “No going to school and telling your friends about this crazy game called Spin the Bottle.” Yeah, I know, fat chance of that happening, but I had to try.
Despite the embarrassment and discomfort we both felt, it’s still a great book, and an age-appropriate way to start some important discussions. The mom in me rebels at the idea of her growing up, but the woman in me understands that it needs to happen. I want her to learn about puberty and periods from me, not her friends. I want her to always trust that she can come to me for anything, and it’s up to me to help her develop that trust through my willingness to be honest and have these tough conversations with her.
On a lighter note, Bryce must have been listening in on our reading, because the other day he was marching around the house chanting, “We must, we must, we must increase our bust!” 🙂