Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret and the Joy of Aimless Youth

Orrin Konheim
3 min readMay 7

Perhaps the greatest thing about Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is that it’s a film about a 6th grader, that ends in 6th grade.

Who knows what Margaret will grow up to believe or become. Who knows if she’ll have that date (or it’s 7th grade equivalent) with Moose? Instead, the film captures a snapshot of childhood in the way a handful of great novels have done throughout history.

There’s no doubt that this book reached a large swath of a certain generation of pre-pubescent girls facing the terror of puberty, and I imagine (as someone who hasn’t read the book), that that is due to its universality. However, the Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles (and I’m paraphrasing here) once said that if you really focus on the specificity of your setting, it becomes universal.

That’s where this movie meets its strength. Margaret isn’t just a stand-in for every girl going through puberty. She’s doing it in the disconnected suburbs of New York in milieu of 1970 when a mother like Barbara (Rachel McAdams) was catching distant whiffs of feminist liberation and a young couple was breaking free of their past generations’ view on religion.

More than that, it’s a story about the fleeting and wondrous nature of youth. In one scene, Margaret professes she’s miserable. In another letter, she tells her teacher that she’s lost her belief in God and it goes unresolved. The only resolution we see is her taking the time to compliment him on being a great teacher on the last day of school. She has a massive realization that her friend is evil and decides to switch her friend circle. But still hangs out with their mutual friends and it’s hard to tell if there’s ever a big “The Reason You Suck” speech.

But that’s how life goes when you’re a sixth grader. Without a doubt, the most eventful years of your life are when you’re young. At that age, you have 800 times more good and bad things simultaneously happening to you all at once. It’s all a vast contradiction that even if you’re processing so many negative things, you are still experiencing and growing at a rate most of us adults can only dream of. It’s the reason that most of our dreams (at least mine) or my favorite memories are from our youth.

I’d probably classify my freshman and senior years of high school and my sophomore and senior years of college as the best years of my life. But there was plenty of stress and misery in those times too. During when unplanned gap semester in college, I voiced how miserable I was to my uncle and he bemusedly smiled and said “it sounds like you’re really growing and doing well.” I didn’t understand it, and I doubt that some adolescents will understand it either.

It’s the reason I told my niece, who was similarly hating 9th grade, not to be in such a hurry to grow up.

Orrin Konheim

Freelance journalist w/professional bylines in 3 dozen publications, writing coach, google me. Patreon: http://www.patreon/com/okjournalist Twitter: okonh0wp