I devoured this book as a kid, but I did not relate to the stressed and confused interfaith child.
I was clearly the original target audience for Judy Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”
When the novel came out in 1970, I was an interfaith kid heading into puberty. And yes indeed, I found the book transgressive and thrilling, for the frank way it addressed boy crushes, mean girls, trying on your first bra and waiting to get your period. I have a visceral memory of lying on the blue-and-green shag carpet on my bedroom floor, breathlessly turning the pages of this book. So, I was not surprised when it became a beloved and iconic touchstone for generations of preteen girls.
But did I relate to the novel’s other subplot, about being born to a Jewish father and a Christian mother? Not so much. While I was born to a Jewish father and a Christian mother, I never bought this novel’s storyline about the stress and confusion of being an interfaith kid. It did not align with the reality of my experience. I have surveyed, interviewed and coached hundreds of interfaith family members in the process of writing two books on the topic. I know that many interfaith families have harmonious experiences. In fact, I fear that the popularity of this novel — which is finally coming to the big screen later this month — has added to the myth of the stressed and confused interfaith child.
To refresh your memory (assuming you also devoured this book as a preteen), while Margaret’s parents each come from different religious backgrounds, they leave it up to their daughter to choose a religion (or none). From the very first chapter, Margaret makes it plain that her favorite family member is her spunky and affectionate Jewish grandmother. In contrast, her Christian grandparents have refused to accept her Jewish father. In fact, Margaret has never even met these Christian grandparents.
Personally, I adored my Christian grandparents, even though I was being raised “exclusively Jewish.” We traveled to be with them on virtually every school vacation, including at Christmas. And they supported the decision of my parents to raise Jewish children. A generation later, my husband and I chose to raise our children, who are now adults, with both family religions. Have cold and intransigent Christian grandparents like Margaret’s ever existed in real life? Probably. But in my experience, Christian grandparents of interfaith kids tend to either be proud, or at least supportive, or just curious but not mean, about their Jewish or “raised with both” grandchildren.