July 8, 2008

I Can Fly Twice as High

Out of all the books I've read I couldn't tell you very much about them individually. I can tell you I've read a lot of murder mysteries or the occasional classic- but I can be specific about very few. But there is one book I do remember in detail- Are You There God? It's Me Margaret. It's about a 12 year-old girl who worries about getting her period last among her friends and at the same time is trying to find an organized religion that makes sense to her. Meanwhile, she has very personal conversations with God about what she's going through, hence the title. All hyperbole aside (I do love that hyperbole) this is truly my most favorite book.

Are You There God?... is one of the most banned books in America. It's not all that surprising once you know the subject matter and realize we live in a country run by religious zealots but it is surprising when you find out who the author is- Judy Blume. This is the same Judy Blume responsible for the well-known and beloved Fudge series, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Freckle Juice and Blubber. Are You There God?... is actually not her only book to be censored. She's been banned innumerably because her work has been deemed sexually explicit, morally inept and blah blah blah. I didn't know she was banned until I reached college and it shocked me. She is one of the most beloved children's authors of modern time! This country is insane.

It never occurred to me that Judy Blume was "morally inept" because my elementary school librarian recommended Are You There God? to me and many other 5th grade girls, in front of our mothers, during our "sex education." (We really just sat in a circle in the gym talking about menstruation. No real sex education there. That would explain the presence of my librarian.) No one batted an eye. I had already read it so it wasn't news to me. But years later, I realize how brave my librarian was to do that. We lived in a small blue collar town in Upper Michigan. Maybe no one knew how controversial that book was down south. Maybe the mothers were grateful someone else would talk to their daughters about menarche. Maybe no one saw a problem with it. No matter, my librarian knew. And she didn't care that someone could cause a ruckus because of her suggestion. I don't know if anyone ever did, at least my mother didn't. But thanks to my courageous librarian, at least one more young girl has been reached through that book.

Are You There God? is a huge part of who I am today. It spoke to me in a voice I'd never read before about a character I could relate to. I didn't belong to a babysitters club, I didn't have a sister named Beezy, I didn't spy on my friends and write it all down in a journal; but I did struggle with my relationship with God and I was terrified of my first period. When I was 10 I felt alone. Truly alone. Until I read that wonderful book.

I hope people continue the fight against censorship. I am one of the lucky ones. No one ever told me a book was forbidden- not even my very Catholic mother. And thanks to that freedom, I knew a world that was shades of grey, full of mystery and joy and most importantly, a world that let me find myself.

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