Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
Margaret Simon suddenly finds herself living in Farbrook, New Jersey after spending the first eleven years of her life in the Big Apple. It’s not so far away physically, but in terms of what it’s like, it might as well be a whole different world. All the houses look the same, all the moms bowl and play bridge on the same nights. The Big City, it is most certainly not. And with that, the stage is set for Margaret to start finding her way through this strange, new, suburban world—especially the sixth grade.
Pretty much from the second she sets foot in Farbrook, the fact that Margaret doesn’t have a religion becomes a huge issue. As one of her new friends says in a PTS meeting, “‘But if you aren’t any religion, how are you going to know if you should join the Y or the Jewish Community Center?'” (5.74). And while an older person might feel comfortable with their lack of religious affiliation, Margaret’s just an eleven year old in a new town, and what those around her think matters a whole lot to her.
So despite the fact that she has a relationship with God that she’s quite happy with (she talks to him on the regular), Margaret decides to go on a religious exploration and try to just pick one already. Being the odd-kid out when it comes to religion doesn’t even cross her mind… because no sixth-grader wants to be the odd-kid out about anything.But questions of religion aren’t the only issues in the book—after all, Margaret is in sixth grade, which is pretty much the official entry point to teenager hood (even if she and her friends aren’t quite teenagers yet). Friends and friendships are way important, and so Margaret’s religious quest and the influence she’s under from her buddies all comes to a head when Margaret goes off on Laura Danker… and then follows her into Confession.
Margaret’s all set for an awesome week in Florida with her super awesome Grandma Sylvia, when the not nearly as awesome Grandparents Hutchins announce they’re dropping by for a visit. Awkward? No, not at all—after all it’s only been fourteen years since they disowned their daughter. So Margaret can’t go to Florida and has to make nice with her two old, frumpy, judgmental, and not-particularly-nice grandparents from Ohio.
It doesn’t go well (shocking, we know) and after a family blowup, Margaret severs her most reliable relationship: “I was never going to talk to God again” (21.67). Picking religious sides is just causing too much family drama for Margaret to want to participate.
Margaret and God may not be talking, but the world doesn’t stop turning, and Margaret keeps plugging along toward the end of sixth grade. She can’t stay mad at God forever, though, right? Right. So when Margaret gets her period just before she’s set to head off to summer camp, and right after she’s decided that she’ll go ahead and like Moose Freed no matter what Nancy thinks, she gets back in touch with the big guy. She just knows he’s shown up for this momentous occasion.