Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret Book vs Movie Review

written by Laura J.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Bume (1970)

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret directed by Kelly Fremon Craig (2023)

Book review

Judy Blume is an author I have heard so much about because her books were important to a lot of girls and young women through the years. Her books were also commonly banned because she wrote about things that were considered inappropriate at the time. For example, a big part of this story deal with girls getting their periods for the first time, and in 1970 this was not something that was spoken about so openly.

This is the first book of hers I read and I really liked it! It is obviously meant for a younger audience and the writing style is very simple and makes for a quick read. Even though I am not the target age demographic, I still enjoyed the story and the messages within it.

Movie review

I would definitely recommend the movie! I think it is worth seeing in theaters, but if not that, you should at least stream it when it’s available. I have a hard time seeing the general male audience liking it but there were a number of reviews by male critics who gave it high marks.

The performances in it are amazing though. I love Rachel McAdams as the mother and Kathy Bates as Sylvia, the grandmother.

It is also a very faithful adaptation. There are two changes in particular I will be talking about, but overall, it follows the book very closely.

From here on out there will be spoilers for both the book and movie!

Margaret’s religion

Throughout the book and movie, Margret will talk to God. She always begins with, “are you there God? It’s me, Margret.” Hence the title. Margaret’s father was raised Jewish and her mother was raised Christian. The parents decide that they wouldn’t live any religion and let Margert decide what she wanted to be when she was grown up.

We learn that her mother’s parents had been so upset about their daughter marrying a Jewish man that they disowned her and Margret has never met them. In the book we are told this as something Margret has long been aware of. In the movie, Margaret starts to wonder about why she doesn’t know her grandparents on her mother’s side and asks her mom about them. We get a really poignant scene in which McAdams’s character, Barbara, tells the story of why they no longer talk to her parents.

When Margret starts 6th grade, they fill out a paper of their likes and dislikes and she writes that she dislikes religious holidays. In both, her teacher asks her about this, because he thinks it is a strange thing not to like. Later, when he tells them they need to find a topic to work on for their yearlong project, Margert decides she will do it on religion. She wants to use this year to try out different denominations and figure out which one she wants to be. In the movie, the teacher suggests this be her topic but in the book it had been her own idea.

Throughout the book and movie she goes to different services, and she doesn’t dislike any of them necessarily, but she doesn’t feel God in any of the churches. Where she feels God she says, is when she alone, praying.

Her maternal grandparents

That Christmas, Barbra decides to send a Christmas card to her parents. They write back in April saying they are getting older and want to see their only daughter again and meet their granddaughter. They are visiting the week Margret was supposed to visit Sylvia, and she is very upset she now has to stay home.

The grandparents come over and it goes well at first. However, they ask Margaret how she likes Sunday school and she tells them she doesn’t go. This causes them to get into an argument with Barbara and Herb. As this argument is going on, Margret stands up and yells at them to stop and says she doesn’t care about God, she is nothing, and she doesn’t even believe in God.

She runs to her room, and later the parents say they will be heading to the city now. Barbara says she thought they were staying for a week, and they say they are, but they are going to spend the rest of the week in NYC. Barbra is of course very hurt by them leaving after only one day.

Later in the week Sylvia shows up and asks where the grandparents are and Margret tells her they left. Sylvia had wanted to meet them, and she isn’t surprised when she hears they had gotten pushy about religion and then left.

In the movie, Sylvia does show up the same day the grandparents are there and they all have dinner together. Then in the evening the grandparents bring up church, and this sparks an argument amongst all of the adults which leads Margret to have the same outburst as in the book.

I thought having Sylvia show up was a nice touch in the movie. We see how she is more accepting of course and has a great relationship with Margaret-unlike the other grandparents. But she still argues that Margret is Jewish rather than let Margret speak for herself. This causes Maragret to see religion as a negative thing because it causes arguments.

Sylvia

Speaking of Sylvia though, she was a great character in the book and like I said, Bates was fantastic in the role. I thought the bond she had with Margaret was very sweet.

At the start of the book and movie Margret and her family were in New York City where Sylvia lives as well. But the parents decide they want to move to New Jersey, so dealing with this move leading up to 6th grade has a big effect of Margaret’s life.

Sylvia is very sad they are moving and, in the movie, she is talking to Barbra and says she read that a person life span drops considerably when they aren’t near loved ones, but at least she has had a good run. Which was a funny scene. She misses her family though and decides to go down to Florida. In the book I think she moves there; in the movie it may have just been an extended stay.

But in both she invites Margaret to visit her and they are both so excited, but it is canceled due to the other grandparents.

In both, Sylvia meets a man named Mr. Binamin who she brings with her when she visits New Jersey.

Laura Danker

In both, Margret befriends a classmate named Nancy and joins Nancy’s friend group. Nancy is very bossy and also says mean things about another girl in their class-Laura Danker. Laura is taller and has breasts already, and because of this she is the brunt of a lot of jokes. The book also says the male teacher ogles her which is gross. One of the rumors said of Laura, is that she goes behind the A&P with these two other boys (the two other boys being Nacy’s brother and his friend Moose.)

Near the end of the book, Margret is assigned to be one of Laura’s partners in a school project. They are working after school and Margaret is feeling moody and takes it out on Laura and mentions how she lets boys feel her up. Laura is hurt and storms off. Margret feels bad and follows her and Laura says how it isn’t her fault she looks the way she does and yet so many people judge her and make accusations simply because she matured faster. As if it was her choice. Margret is struck by this and feels terrible for contributing to the bullying and judging of Laura.

This is basically it with Laura in the book. In the movie though, there is an end of year party and Margaret sees Laura alone and she goes up and asks if she wants to dance. Laura and Margret start dancing, and they are then joined by another girl from the Nancy friend group. I liked how the movie ties things up with Laura in this way and loved this last scene with them.

In the book though, Margaret goes up to Moose and gets mad at him for telling lies about Laura. He says he never said any such thing and Margaret assumes Nancy must have been the one to make up the lie.

Nancy and the friend group

Nancy is very judgy, as I just talked about, and is very concerned with what others think. She is obviously very self-conscious-hence her need to belittle others and boss them around.

In their friend group though they make different rules. One rule is you have to wear a bra. Margert doesn’t wear one and has to ask her mom if they can get one. They also agree that when one of them gets their period, they have to tell the others everything about it. They also have a boy book where they write names of boys they like and they all like this kid Phillip Leroy. Margret though likes a kid named Moose but is too embarrassed to admit it because Nancy doesn’t like Moose at all.

Eventually one of the friends get her period and tells the others who are all so jealous. Nancy later claims to have gotten it, but when Margaret goes to the city when Nancy’s family, Nancy gets it for real and makes a scene. Margret is confused why she is freaking out since she has had it before, but the mother says it is her first time. In the book Margret can’t believe her friend is a liar. But she also says she feels bad for Nancy, because as much as Margret wants her period, she doesn’t want it so much that she would lie about it.

In the end of the book and movie though, Margret finally gets hers and is very grateful. This scene, as well as the bra scene, were great moments in the movie between Margret and Barbra. It was also a sweet moment in the movie after Margaret learns about Barbara’s parents, we get a scene of them going ot the mall and in voiceover Margaret was talking to God about her mom, saying how her mom is a great person and doesn’t deserve to be treated so mean and it was just a really touching moment.

Barbara

One thing I liked better about the movie is that we get more with Barbra. In the book she is a stay-at-home mom who paints. We get a look into her as a person, but honestly it isn’t too much. In the movie though we see her try to adjust to being a stay-at-home mom, because in the city she was an art teacher. She signs up for a ton of PTA things and is trying to find her place. There is a moment when she sees a beautiful bird outside and runs to get her supplies and starts painting it, only to have it fly away.

By the end of the movie, we see she has become a teacher at a local art shop and when the PTA lady asks her about joining next year, she tells the woman thanks, but I don’t want to.

We also just see more moments of her and Margaret bonding and her adapting to Margaret as she gets older. There is a funny moment when the parents don’t like that Margaret is going to different churches and they say they want her to wait till she is grown up to decide about religion. Margret says, “I’m almost 12!” as if that means she is getting so old already. Barbra can’t help herself and kind of laughs at this, and Margret gets upset.

In the movie though I loved how along with Margaret’s coming of age story as she tries to discover herself, we get the stories of Barbra and Sylvia as well. Showing that we are constantly trying to discover ourselves and we are having “coming of age” moments throughout our whole lives, regardless of our age.

Book vs Movie

Even though I am glad I finally read a Judy Blume book, I will have to say the movie wins. It was very sweet and heartfelt and genuine, without being overly earnest and fake. The performances were great, and I actually like the changes the movie made from the source material.

And to share my own experience, as a kid I was definitely excited to grow up. I was the youngest of five sisters and wanted to be as grown up as they were. I wasn’t anxious to get my period though, I think seeing my sisters deal with it made me realize how it can suck and I definitely wasn’t wanting it as much as Margret was lol.