This book has been reviewed by Thriving Family, a marriage and parenting magazine published by Focus on the Family.
Almost 12-year-old Margaret Simon moves from a New York City apartment to a house with a lawn in Farbrook, N.J., where all the houses and trees look alike. Margaret’s father, Herb, commutes to his Manhattan insurance job; her mother, Barbara, paints pictures of fruits and vegetables, and her Grandmother Sylvia knits Margaret’s sweaters and pays for Margaret’s summer camp. Margaret doesn’t know why her grandma keeps asking if she has any boyfriends and if they’re Jewish. Margaret’s parents want her to choose her own religion when she is older and not be influenced by their beliefs. Her mother is Christian, and her father is Jewish.
After the move, Margaret quickly becomes friends with Nancy, a girl who lives six houses down on Morningbird Lane. Nancy seems to know a lot about growing up, and she practices kissing, experiments with makeup and compares herself to the girls in her father’s magazines. Nancy even tells Margaret how to dress so she’ll fit in to Nancy’s secret club, the Four Pre-Teen Sensations. Margaret really likes Moose Freed, who is Nancy’s 14-year-old brother’s friend.
The club begins with secret names and a talk about Laura Danker, the girl in sixth grade who has started physically maturing. Nancy’s brother says she goes behind the A&P with him and Moose. The club girls decide they will get bras, and they find out that none of them has started their period yet. Margaret discovers she is the only member who doesn’t go to the Y or Jewish Community Center. Margaret tells God she wants to belong, grow and have Him be proud of her. She also confides to Him about being afraid, having a new friend and wanting to mature physically. When she talks to Him, she often starts the conversation with, “Are You there God? It’s me, Margaret.”
Mr. Benedict, Margaret’s sixth-grade teacher, is new to the profession. He asks his students to do a project. Margaret decides to do hers on religion. In her research, Margaret goes to Temple with her grandma on the Jewish New Year, to the First Presbyterian Church with her friend Janie Loomis, to Christmas Eve Services at the United Methodist Church with Nancy and her family and into a Catholic confessional. After reading three books about God, she doesn’t find God in any of these religions. Margaret decides that parents should teach their children religion because at her age it is too late to learn. She writes a letter to her teacher instead of a report but she doesn’t include her talks with God in the letter.
Margaret turns 12 and attends her first dance and her first party. She gets her first bra and her first kiss. Margaret meets her mother’s parents for the first time. She isn’t the first club member to get her period, and her friend Nancy lies about getting hers. Margaret becomes angry and determines not to speak with God but misses Him and their talks.
Margaret graduates from sixth grade. When she gets her first period, she shares her excitement with God. She is happy to finally be growing up.
Margaret and her family don’t go to church. Her parents don’t want any religion forced on Margaret. Her father comes from a Jewish background but hasn’t found God in religion. Margaret’s mother comes from a Christian upbringing. Her family disowned her when she and Margaret’s dad eloped. Her mother’s parents eventually come for a visit and want Margaret to become a Christian. Her father’s mother observes Jewish services and holidays and would like Margaret to become Jewish. Margaret’s friend says everyone living in Farbrook is either one or the other — belonging to the Y or Jewish Community Center. Margaret chooses to talk with God but not join an organized religion.
A Jewish New Year service — Rosh Hashanah — a Pentecostal worship service and a Catholic confession scene are lightly explored in the story.
Margaret’s father is often away at work. Her mother is frequently occupied with her paintings or household chores. Margaret’s grandmother Sylvia loves spending time with Margaret. Mr. Benedict, Margaret’s teacher, is perceptive to the needs of his class and Margaret’s struggles. God is an authority in Margaret’s life but can’t be bossed around like a friend or bargained with.
Nancy says her father gets Playboy, she’s seen the girls in the middle, and she’ll look like them when she’s done growing. She practices kissing with her bed pillow. She also says that 14-year-old boys are only interested in naked girl pictures and dirty books. Nancy informs the club that Laura Danker goes behind the A&P with Nancy’s brother and Moose.
At a secret club meeting, Gretchen sneaks out her father’s anatomy book, and the girls all look at the illustration of a male body. Janie shares how her aunt went to a nudist colony. Nancy assures Janie that she’ll want everybody to see her naked as the girls in Playboy do. Janie hasn’t seen this magazine so Nancy has to sneak her father’s magazine to the meeting. The girls discuss the model’s breast size. The girls decide to exercise more to increase their bust sizes.
At a boy-girl party, a boy named Norman wants to play the Guess Who game — where the lights are off and the boys try to guess who a girl is by the way they feel. The game is vetoed. He starts a game of Spin the Bottle — where those the bottle points to after spinning must kiss. After a few spins, Jay wants to play Two Minutes in the Closet. Norman starts the game by taking Gretchen in the bathroom — since there isn’t a closet. Several of the kids go into the bathroom together, according to the numbers called out. Margaret’s number is called by Philip Leroy, someone she thinks is handsome, and is kissed twice very quickly. Margaret calls Norman’s number, and he kisses her on the cheek. Later Margaret and Nancy discuss kisses.
The sixth-grade girls see the movie What Every Girl Should Know that is about menstruation. The facilitator says not to use Tampax until they are older. Later, Gretchen starts her period. She tells the secret club members what it is like. Nancy lies about getting hers. She later starts in a restaurant bathroom. Margaret’s mother says hers didn’t start until she was 14 years old. The book closes with Margaret starting her period.
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