The book centers on Margaret, who has just moved to a new school. She is learning the ropes of this new town and sometimes does not do so gracefully. She is clumsy around boys. She is leery of her parents. She is convinced that her teacher hates her. So Margaret is a fairly typical 12-year-old. The reader will see Margaret thinking about whether or not a boy likes her and being unsure about how to act. She does not know how to reconcile what she feels, such as asking a boy to a dance, with what is considered appropriate. These struggles are ones that many teen girls can understand about the process of learning how to act and deciding how much of societal influence we want to take into our lives.
Margaret makes three friends during her first year, and together they form a club. The other girls already meet, but Margaret is permitted to join them. At first she is invited because she is the new kid, and they are curious. Over time, however, Margaret becomes a welcome part of the group. There are two central issues of concern for the group: bras and menstruation.
Every pre-teen girl has experiences with these two subjects, some not too pleasant. The girls all report back about their experiences buying new bras. Margaret, for example, is appalled that her mother and the saleslady stand in the department store in front of everyone and discuss Margaret and her developing breasts as if she were not there. The saleslady goes into the dressing room with them, and Margaret is not sure what to think or do. She immediately goes to her friends and gives them the skinny on the situation.
One of the most interesting characters is Sheila, who is one of the group members. Sheila is large for her age and very well-developed. The girls are all impressed when she gets a regular bra on her first trip out and not a training bra. As the most developed, she also is the first to start her period, which is an issue of major importance for the girls. They are all curious about what happens and how everything goes, and Sheila gives them the full report.
There are subtle issues in the book as well that make it a classic read for anyone. For example, Sheila and her family are Jewish, and the group often has to switch their schedules and plans to fit around Hebrew school. The religion issue is one that is not a huge sub-plot in the book, but it does bring up important points. The reader finds out a little about Judaism and learns about how to deal with different religious backgrounds.
This book created a firestorm when Blume first wrote it, and even now, it is banned in many school and public libraries. Of course, it is not the only book Blume has written that is not permitted in many schools because it touches on social and cultural taboos. The book is one that I believe every parent should buy for his or her pre-teen daughter because it gives real explanations of the issues facing girls that age and does it in a way that gives credibility to their feelings. So often parents take adult issues for granted, but Blume is able to capture what it was like at that age to experience the uncertainty that lay ahead. The girls are real 12-year-old girls, and you will find yourself giggling and crying along with them.
I read this book at 8, and I read it again in college. Both times I learned from the book. It now sits on the bookshelf in my bedroom where I will keep it until I have a daughter of my own to give it to.
By Julia Mercer