Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

Yeah I read it.

Normally I read on the bus on the way to and from work. Although I don’t normally care about what people think, everyone has to draw the line somewhere. For me, that meant I wasn’t reading a book about a pre-teen girl dealing with her first period, stuffing her bra, and boy crushes on the bus. Probably a smart place to draw the line, as most other Lost books don’t lead to accusatory stares from people.

Judy Blume’s story about a pre-pubescent girl named Margaret appears in the season two episode The Whole Truth. Sawyer is reading the book when Sun comes up to him looking for a pregnancy test from his stash. Running low on reading material by this point in season two, Sawyer was dismayed by Blume’s story, calling it “predictable” and finding that it lacked in sex.

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Sawyer was right. Not necessarily about the sex part, because that would have been weird, but about the predictable part. Of course the fact that it was predictable was pretty predictable, since it was written for 12-year old girls.

When we first meet Margaret, her and her family have just moved from New York City out to the suburbs because owning a house with a yard is her dad’s version of the American Dream. Margaret is understandably upset – she is just about to enter the sixth grade at a new school with no friends.

Margaret quickly becomes friends with her neighbor Nancy. The two form a secret club along with Nancy’s friends Gretchen and Janie. The four quickly become best of friends and dub themselves the Pre-Teen Sensations.

The club meets once a week and pretty much talk about three things, and three things only: wearing bras (none need a bra, but they all decide to wear one anyway); getting their period (none of them have at the beginning); and boys (they all keep a book with their various crushes). Much of the book follows Margaret’s journey as she practices using sanitary napkins, stuffs cotton balls in her bra, and crushes on various boys in class. All she really wants is her first period – then she knows the rest will follow.

At the beginning of the school year, Margaret’s teacher assigns the class a research project of their choosing to complete during the year. The only requirement is that the topic is meaningful to each of the students. Margaret chooses religion. She doesn’t have one, but feels like she should: it seems that every kid in the class either goes to the Christian Y or Jewish Center. In typical sixth grade fashion, Margaret thinks she is the only kid anywhere without a religion.

Not that Margaret doesn’t believe in God. Quite the opposite actually – she speaks with God every day about the issues facing sixth grade girls and asks for his help in dealing with her problems. She knows that God can be good.

Unfortunately, Margaret has also seen the dark side of religion. Her father’s mom is a practicing Jew and her mother’s parents are strict Christians. Margaret’s mother’s parents disowned her when she married her father and she has never met them. Her father’s mother is better. Margaret has a great, secular relationship with her grandmother on that side, even if relations between her father and his mother are icy. Margaret’s grandmother thinks Margaret is Jewish, but does her best not to push it on her. Meanwhile, when she finally meets her other grandparents, they proclaim her to be a Christian.

Margaret actually tries to go to both a synagogue and both a Catholic and Protestant church, but does not feel anything special with any of them. She does not try other religions because, as she says, she doesn’t know anyone from any other religion. She feels God’s presence, and continues to speak to him, but cannot identify with just one religion.

By the end of the year, she feels like she did not complete the research project and submits a letter to her teacher saying that she tried but couldn’t do the project. Of course, we know that she actually did complete the project – she found God in her own way.

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In Lost, Sawyer is reading this book when Sun comes up to him and asks for a pregnancy test. She is flustered and we find out later why: before he came to the Island, Jin was impotent and Sun had had an affair with a former boyfriend. All Jin wanted was a child and the two went to a fertility clinic to help them conceive. Now Sun is pregnant, so she should be ecstatic…if only she could be sure that Jin was the father.

Seriously, how brilliant are the Lost creators? Sawyer is reading a book about a girl who would give anything to have her period just as a mildly terrified Sun comes up and asks for a pregnancy test because she has not gotten her period. And not only is it a cute joke, it actually has some influence on Lost, particularly in the religious themes that pop up in later seasons.

By the time in season two when we see Sawyer reading the book, two different characters are living out Margaret’s two big issues (getting a period and finding religion). Sun just wants a period. The reason she wants a period actually stems from her boy issues too (although Sun’s problems were slightly more significant).

Margaret’s search for religion closely parallels John Locke’s own search on the Island. Margaret keeps talking to God and consistently has faith in his powers. She asks him to help her start puberty and to get through the sixth grade okay. Eventually she begins to doubt God when she doesn’t get her period and her grandparents start to use God to tug her in two opposite directions. Finally, at the end, she gets her first period and her faith is restored. The book closes with her talking to God again after a brief time of doubt.

On the Island, Locke is the man of faith. He presses the button every 108 minutes not because of any particular religious beliefs, but because he feels that is what he is supposed to do. He never specifically mentions God, but he believes in a kind of fate that he intuitively senses. When he finds the Pearl station, he begins to question his faith and challenges it by forcing himself not to press the button. In the climactic scene of the season two finale, the Hatch explodes because the button was real. Locke’s faith is restored and he never again doubts his fate, right up to the time when Ben Linus strangled him to death in season five.

The Christianity/Judaism schism pops up later in season six at both the Temple and the last flash-sideways scene. The Temple dwellers seem to have some sort of strange hybrid religion, most notably using elements from Christian and Buddhist traditions. They feel a higher power, but do not pigeon-hole themselves into one religion. This was Margaret’s problem: she felt God, but did not feel comfortable picking just one religion.

The Lost creators are clearly spiritual as well. In the climatic final scene set in a church in Los Angeles, we see a dozen or so symbols on the wall from different religions just as the Oceanic survivors are about to head into the next life. As Damon and Carlton view it, religion is not just a Christian church or a Jewish synagogue. Instead it is a combination of different beliefs. The underlying theme in both works can be summed up as “spiritual, not religious.”

For more of my book reviews, return to the Literature of Lost series.

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