Freedom to Read: sexuality and religion for teen girls

In honour of Freedom to Read Week coming soon, this is the second in my series of posts focused on books that have been challenged and, in some cases, banned outright.

I hadn’t read Judy Blume’s wonderful book, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret since I was thirteen or so. It isn’t on the Canadian list of troublesome titles, but I know it’s been of concern in some circles.

It was written in 1970 and the main character is an eleven year old girl named Margaret. She has a few things on her mind throughout the book, including puberty. Between waiting for her period and all her “I must, I must, I must increase my bust!” exercises, she’s pretty anxious about it and frequently compares herself to how her friends and other classmates are developing, and how they all feel about the boys in their grade 6 class, including their teacher.

The other parts have to do with her relationship with her parents, her grandparents and God. Margaret’s parents are trying to raise her religion free, but have no idea that she prays to God quite frequently because she’s curious about the whole religion thing. Her father was raised Jewish but has turned his back on that and doesn’t want his mother injecting a bunch of religion into her relationship with Margaret. Her mother was disowned by her Christian family for marrying a Jewish man and she’s never met them.

The book only has 140 or so pages so it doesn’t go very deep into any of these topics, but I guess it’s deep enough to bother some people. I don’t know what gets under the skin more, the religious aspects or the “how to deal with menstroo-ation” moments. Maybe it’s a toss-up.

I had time to zip through another short title, as well – Outrageously Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, one of a number of books featuring Alice McKinley. It was written in 1998 and did make it onto the Challenged list out of concerns of it not being appropriate for young readers. I have to say I laughed my head off reading this book but had some hrms about the content as well. If Alice is a typical thirteen year old girl, then times really have changed.

It starts with chastity belts on page three, migrates to sex is a natural function (“Like throwing up?”) by page 86 and, my personal favourite guffaw moment, when Alice is getting a lesson on what it is missionaries do for why they have a sexual position named after them, and how her Catholic friend reacts to the news.

But, if you can ignore the lingerie party and mystery snog in the school closet and getting groped by a drunk groomsman, the book is mostly about Alice’s family life and the lives of her friends. Overall, Alice is tired of being ordinary and looking for ways to spread her wings, even if the result makes her look like a punk St. Patty’s Day hedgehog in green eyeliner. Her brother’s ex-girlfriend is getting married, her friend’s folks are splitting up and she’s hoping her father gets a real relationship going with one of her favourite teachers. She’s also dealing with adolescent boys and discovering the differences between joking around and getting serious. I assume the book wouldn’t seem so superficial if I’d started with the first in the series. There’s definitely an arc going on, based on the references to past events and this is book 12 of 19, by the looks of things. I’m almost curious enough now to start at the beginning…

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Canadian Atheist Basically ordinary Library employee Avid book lover Ditto for movies Wanna-be writer Procrastinator
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