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Infinite Country by Patricia Engel | Thoughts

   Published : 2021   ||    Format : print   ||    Location : Colombia ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆   What was it about the country that kept everyone hostage to its fantasy? The previous month, on its own soil, an American man went to his job at a plant and gunned down fourteen coworkers, and last spring alone there were four different school shootings. A nation at war with itself, yet people still spoke of it as some kind of paradise.. Thoughts : Infinite Country follows two characters - young Talia, who at the beginning of this book, escapes a girl’s reform school in North Colombia so that she can make her previously booked flight to the US. Before she can do that, she needs to travel many miles to reach her father and get her ticket to the rest of her family. As we follow Talia’s treacherous journey south, we learn about how she ended up in the reform school in the first place and why half her family resides in the US. Infinite Country tells the story of her family through the other protagonist, El

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume | Thoughts

Published in: 1970
Format read in: ebook
Location: New Jersey
Rating: 5/5

Why I read it: After hearing over and over about how crucial and life changing this book was for many in their adolescence period, I wanted to give it a try.

One line review: Excellent and fast-paced, this book follows young Margaret as she navigates the challenges of a new school and new friends while also searching for God.  

Who should read it: If you enjoy middle grade books or an honest uncensored account of pre-adolescent experiences, this book may be for you.

About: Margaret Simon, almost twelve, likes long hair, tuna fish, the smell of rain, and things that are pink. She’s just moved from New York City to Farbook, New Jersey, and is anxious to fit in with her new friends—Nancy, Gretchen, and Janie. When they form a secret club to talk about private subjects like boys, bras, and getting their first periods, Margaret is happy to belong. But none of them can believe Margaret doesn’t have religion, and that she isn’t going to the Y or the Jewish Community Center. What they don’t know is Margaret has her own very special relationship with God. She can talk to God about everything—family, friends, even Moose Freed, her secret crush. (From Goodreads)

Then Miss Abbott told us since we were in sixth grade and very grown up, there were certain subjects we would cover during the school year. 'Certain very private subjects just for girls.' That was all she said but I got the idea. Why do they wait until sixth grade when you already know everything!

After years of saying that I would like to someday read this book, I finally got an opportunity I couldn’t ignore when it was listed as Available in the Overdrive catalog. This is one of those books that many have said they appreciated reading it as a preteen/early teen. This is also one of the most banned books due to having language that is explicit and yet very common among kids Margaret’s age. Personally, I loved this book and wished I had discovered it in sixth grade. There’s an explosion of knowledge of a different kind in those years - information you are not sure how to handle or whether to discuss with your parents. This book certainly normalized those experiences, with nothing censored.

Plus, it was also very funny.

After recently moving from Long Island, NY to a New Jersey suburb, Margaret was understandably nervous about adapting to her new life and the idea of making new friends. What if they didn’t like her? Luckily for her, it isn’t too long before she is welcomed by three other girls. While that alleviated her concern of whether she will have friends, Margaret’s worries are only compounding. She appears to be the only one in her school without a religion, which is a very big deal (and an almost scandalous idea) in her new town. Her friends also seem to know more about boys and ideas to be more attractive, so she follows along with their suggestions like making a boy book, doing a daily exercise to “increase our bust”, and also wearing a bra due to social pressure more than really needing it. As the school year goes by, she seems to be getting some kind of a handle on her social life, however, two things continue to worry her - her lack of a religion and also whether she would be the last in her group to get her periods. 

Margaret tried very hard to find the “right” religion. Her parents are not religious but her grandparents have often tried to influence her in the matter of religion. The most that God was present in her daily life, before NJ, was when she wrote in her diary addressed to God. He was more a thought in her mind, a confidante than anything else. But in her new town, she visited several houses of God to find which church or temple she'd like to join. 

Being a girl seems to be just as challenging for Margaret some days. Along with her friends, they all agree to wear a bra right away, and also let each other know when they get their periods. It’s a big deal for them because now their pride is at stake as well. I loved how well the author stressed the importance of these events in the minds of pre-adolescents. Once you are an adult, these experiences appear insignificant or unimportant. But as a sixth/seventh grader, nothing is more important than wearing a bra, not being the last to get your periods, and being able to find a boyfriend. It’s a time of tumultuous changes.

I can try to guess what it feels like to read this book as an adolescent, but as a woman in her 30s, I found this book very funny. Judy Blume has succeeded in writing about important adolescent experiences and also making them funny in hindsight. It was a big deal for Margaret and her friends to be wearing a bra the next time they met (because they all said that they already were wearing it), and then some of them bump into each other when they are out shopping for a bra in secret. Oh, and then the embarrassment of being seen buying feminine sanitary products at a store even if by only a store clerk you may never run into again - that takes a long time getting over.

Ultimately, I’m glad I finally read this book and would have loved to read it in sixth grade. If you have already read this book, what did you think of it? If you haven’t read it yet, why not?