Are you there ___? It’s me, Sravanthi

Ever since I heard that there was a movie version of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, my 10 year old self was giddy with excitement, like the first time I wore a bra. Unlike wearing a bra though, the excitement of reading a Judy Blume classic never wears off, the underwire never cuts in, and you never want to put it down at the end of the night. I went to see the movie last night, which prompted a re-reading of the classic tonight. Yes, I finished it in one night. It was that good… again. Even through the eyes of an almost 45 year old!

Like every other girl that read the Judy Blume classic, I compared myself to Margaret in every situation she encountered in her first year in New Jersey. We all went through those rites of passage – finding friends at a new school, first period, first kiss, first bra… some were later than others though!

I felt like the Indian Margaret Simon in a lot of ways. I went through an identity crisis as a pre-teen (and think the identity crisis has persisted through adulthood through my almost 45th birthday!). I went through a big move as a 9 year old that took me away from most of my family. And I got my period when I turned 12, though it wasn’t exactly a joyous occasion since it was the day after my grandfather passed away, and it was the day after Thanksgiving, so all of my family knew right away, especially since I was the oldest granddaughter!  

Unlike Margaret though, I didn’t have kids to run through the sprinklers on my street since everyone else on our street were much older than my parents. I didn’t belong to any cliques — in fact, I was an outcast — more like Laura Danker, and not because I was well-endowed! I didn’t have my first kiss until I was 17, and I was a late bloomer in more ways than that! I didn’t know that those “I must – I must – I must increase my bust” exercises were time-delayed by 10 years!

My identity crisis was a little different than Margaret’s though. Hers was – am I Jewish or Christian? Like Herb and Barbara, neither my parents nor either set of grandparents were religious. Yes, we were Hindu, but only because that’s what generations of our family were before us. My identity crisis was my culture – I thought I had to choose being Indian or being American. As a nearly 45 year old woman, I know now that I can be both. But as a kid growing up in the Deep South, when you’re asked what church you go to (I never saw a synagogue, to be honest), and you already feel outcast because of your skin color and what you brought to school for lunch (mango pickle, rice and homemade Indian yogurt), you’re not going to answer, I don’t, I’m Hindu. 

In fact, I have never felt any connection to religion, which is why I left the God part blank in the title of this blog. Like Margaret, I did go to churches, both Protestant and Catholic, and synagogues, with my friends. We went to temple when we moved to Georgia since Atlanta had a big one, but it was for social occasions, not religious reasons. And it wasn’t that often since it was an hour and half drive to the temple.

My identity crisis had far-reaching repercussions. I stopped speaking Telugu, and it’s now very hard for me to speak it, even though I understand it fluently. I have to be immersed in it for several weeks for me to speak a sentence without pausing to pick up the words. I was embarrassed to be seen in public wearing Indian outfits, and it’s taken a couple of decades for me to say to myself, get over it, no one cares! It also helps that Indian culture and customs are more widely understood and accepted in 2022 than they were in 1987. 

While my identity crisis wasn’t like Margaret’s, I eventually came to terms with who I am, and I sort of wish I had a Mr. Benedict to make me do a year-long research project on my identity so I could discover my true identity years ago. 

While I was reading the book tonight and reflecting on the movie, I thought how even though the book was published in 1970, so many of the topics are relevant. Yes, the girls now text each other instead of sitting in the closet with the cord phone dragged from the kitchen or hallway. Sure, they can call an Uber or Lyft instead of making Mom or Dad pick them up. But some of the topics tackled in the book are the same as 52 years ago: bullying, cliques, does he/she like me, the onset and uncertainty of puberty, and relationships with parents.

Kathy Bates as Sylvia Simon and Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret in the newly released Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. Credit: NPR

The movie was just as I imagined, although Rachel McAdams made for a much cooler mom than I imagined Barbara Simon to be! And Kathy Bates is a national treasure. She was the perfect Grandma Simon.

If you read Are You There God, It’s Me? Margaret, how did you identify (or not identify) with Margaret? Have you seen the movie? What did you think? If you haven’t, look for the Judy Blume cameo!

Related Links:

‘Are You There, God?’ Reminds Us Why Books Are Still Banned, Even in the Digital Age

Why ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ Still Matters

‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ Director Kelly Fremon Craig on the Pressures of Adapting Judy Blume: It Felt ‘Like Painting Over a Picasso’

‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,’ Judy Blume, and the shame of first periods

Judy Blume Doesn’t Miss Writing. She’s Not Afraid of Dying, Either

Judy Blume Talks Censorship, Book Bans, and Why She Will ‘Always Be a Feminist’

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