Judy Blume’s 1970 book, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. is a classic of young adult literature that follows an 11-year-old girl as she navigates puberty, religious questions, moving to a new city, and other big-life changes, all with Blume’s characteristic humor and warmth. And it’s now on the big screen in a new film from writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig (Edge of Seventeen).
I Love Libraries recently spoke with actor Abby Ryder Fortson, who stars as Margaret in the film adaptation of Blume’s beloved (and controversial) book. She shared with us how she prepared for the titular role, the film’s importance in a time of increasing book bans, and her love of libraries and reading.
Were you a fan of the book, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.—or Judy Blume’s work in general—before you got the role in the film adaptation?
Honestly, my biggest secret is that I hadn't actually read any of her books before getting the audition for Margaret! I had friends who had read it, and I had heard about her —you know, how wonderful she was and all of her writings—but I never actually read it. I was into fantasy and sci-fi and all that stuff when I was younger. But as soon as I got the audition, I read the book and I remember loving it so much and relating to Margaret so much. And I turned to my parents, and I remember saying, “Oh my gosh, this is it. This is the experience. How did someone write this down? Especially in the 1970s.” Reading the book is really what sold me on doing the project in the first place.
Margaret is an iconic literary character for generations of readers. Did you feel any pressure taking on this role? How did you approach Margaret?
Not really. I had talked to some people who had read the book when they were younger—especially my mom. She read the book, and she loved it. While I was doing my best to stay true to Margaret and her character, I didn't really feel any pressure. But I do hope that readers who are watching the movie for nostalgia, because they read it so long ago when it first came out or they loved it in the past, I really hope that they like it.
For her character, I went back and read the book a million times. I worked on my script to death. I had pencil notes, pen marks, Post-It notes, highlights everywhere. The pages were just falling out of [my script], and I had to bobby pin them back together so they would stay in. I went through every single moment and thought about how she would react to someone saying something or how she would move in this new space. Both of my parents are actors, and they’ve been my coaches forever. They worked with me months beforehand, before even shooting, to really get her character down and get her ingrained in me.
Judy Blume has said that, while the book isn't autobiographical, she put a lot of herself growing up into Margaret. Did you have any contact with Judy as you were preparing? Have you heard from her about your portrayal in the film?
I didn’t meet her before we were on set, but she came to visit. [Now] every single time she sees me, she just goes, “Oh, my Margaret!” I've heard that she's very, very happy with how we adapted her beloved book. I'm so happy she loves it, because Margaret is her baby and she kind of gave it to us. It's a new life, almost. I'm so happy that she loves it as much as we do.
What do you hope that viewers, especially young women and teenagers, take away from this film?
I hope that it's a great conversation opener. There's a lot of unnecessary mystique or taboo about puberty topics, especially in a time when books are being banned and laws are being made. We can't talk about these things. It's unfortunate that it's happening. I think that this film will show people that it's okay to talk about things that might seem uncomfortable at first. It's really important that we do talk about them so people know that they're not alone; that everything that they're going through is something that millions of people have gone through before. It's a really great thing to be able to share with your kids or friends or something. It's a great bonding experience to just go, “Oh, yeah, my first bra-buying experience—that was horrible, so awkward.” Or, you know, “My first kiss. God, oh, I never want to relive that.” I think it's a great bonding time for anyone who goes to see it, and it's a great experience for everyone all ways around.
What role does the library play in your life? Do you have any special library memories that you'd like to share?
Oh, my gosh, I am the biggest reader in the world! I always have been. I love books so, so much. When I was in kindergarten through 8th grade at this one specific school, I would go to the library every single day and bring home a stack of like six books to just devour. There was this amazing librarian there who would give me so many recommendations, and I just loved her to death.
What are you reading now? And if you had to pick one book, what is your favorite?
I have a lot of books that I'm reading now. Currently, I kind of got back into the classics. I've been rereading, like Crime and Punishment and The Picture of Dorian Gray. I love all those kinds of things. I just started The Secret History by Donna Tartt.
I think one of my favorites that I used to read all the time would have to be Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. I love it and was such a fan when I was younger. It's just a great book. Honestly, I read it in like an hour or something, because it was just so great to read.
Catch Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. in theaters nationwide April 28.