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How Judy Blume's 'Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret' remains so timeless

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Fifty years ago, author Judy Blume captured the comedy and drama of being a preteen girl. Her novel "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." has never gone out of print. It's also never been made into a movie until now.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET.")

ABBY RYDER FORTSON: (As Margaret Simon) Let me just be normal and regular like everybody else - just please, please, please, please, please, please, please.

BLOCK: The filmmakers are big fans of the book, and for them, adapting "Margaret" for the screen was a dream job because, they say, there's a character in it for everyone. Here's NPR's Elizabeth Blair.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Being a preteen can be excruciating.

KELLY FREMON CRAIG: I was a late bloomer like Margaret. I didn't need a bra till I was 14 or so, and I was so upset about that.

BLAIR: "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." director Kelly Fremon Craig remembers a boy she had a crush on wrote a poem for her.

FREMON CRAIG: Roses are red. Violets are black. Why is your chest as flat as your back (laughter)? I was, like, gut-punched.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEORGE HARRISON SONG, "WHAT IS LIFE")

BLAIR: 1971 - think bulky station wagons, macrame and, for some girls, a desperate exercise to grow breasts.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET.")

ELLE GRAHAM: (As Nancy Wheeler) I must, I must, I must increase my bust.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (As characters) I must, I must increase my bust.

FREMON CRAIG: I went to go film that scene, and I'm having the girls do it. And then all of a sudden, Judy Blume runs up and says, you're doing it wrong.

BLAIR: The girls were pushing their palms together in a hard clap movement.

JUDY BLUME: I showed them how to do the exercise because I didn't like the way Kelly did it. She did it an entirely different way. And I said, no.

BLAIR: If you're wondering, the right way, says Blume, is to hold your arms out, make a fist, and then pull your arms back while pushing your chest out.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET.")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (As characters) We must, we must increase our bust.

BLAIR: But in the absurdity of adolescence, the girl in the story who does have a bust, Laura Danker, is ostracized.

(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIOBOOK, "ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET.")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (Reading) You'd be smart and stay away from her. She's got a bad reputation. What do you mean, I asked. My brother says she goes behind the AMP with him and Moose. She's been wearing a bra since fourth grade - bet she gets her period.

JULIE ANSELL: I was definitely the Laura Danker of my school.

BLAIR: Julie Ansell is a producer on the new movie.

ANSELL: I was the tallest and the most developed, and I had, you know, the big boobs and the whole thing. And, I mean, I just thought I was, like, a monster.

BLAIR: And, like Laura Danker, Ansell says she was treated as if she were more mature than the other kids her age.

ANSELL: And it's kind of this strange mixing of sexuality at a time when you're - I mean, I was 10 or 11 and not at all thinking about that. Yet people would look at me that way.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET.")

ISOL YOUNG: (As Laura Danker) Do you think I don't know that all of you make fun of me like it's some kind of game?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) It's not me.

YOUNG: (As Laura Danker) Do you think I want to be the biggest kid in the class? How would you feel if you had to wear a bra in fourth grade and everybody called you names just because of how you looked?

BLAIR: But do scenes like this still happen? "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." came out 50 years ago. We've had so many studies on adolescents and bullying, the #MeToo movement and body positivity. Is "Margaret" still relevant?

FREMON CRAIG: I did a ton of research before I started the movie and sat with dozens of 11- and 12-year-old girls to interview them to find out the answer to that question.

BLAIR: Director Kelly Fremon Craig.

FREMON CRAIG: I was mostly struck by the similarities - what it is to be not quite a child and not quite an adult. And you're sort of pingponging (ph) between both those identities, and neither one feels right. Some of the details have changed, but the feelings are exactly the same. In fact, one of the lines in the movie came from one of the girls that I interviewed who, in the middle of the interview, said, very disappointed, my boobs just look like little wizard hats (laughter). You know, and I thought, that will go into the film.

BLAIR: In another scene, Margaret faces a crushing moment when she asks her mom to get her a bra.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET.")

RACHEL MCADAMS: (As Barbara Simon) Do you think you need one?

BLAIR: At 85 years old, Judy Blume is still very much in touch with how funny and poignant entering puberty can be. She's learned there's no one-size-fits-all for how girls handle it.

BLUME: I have heard from two girls in all these years - 50 years - who said, I'm nothing like Margaret. I don't want to grow up. I don't want to get my period. I don't want breasts. I want to stay a little girl. I thought that was really interesting. And one of them told me why. And she said, because I'm afraid when I do start to grow up, my parents will die, which really got me.

BLAIR: Growing up never gets any easier. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT IS LIFE")

GEORGE HARRISON: (Singing) Tell me; what is my life without your love? Tell me; who am I without you by my side? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.