June 30 2021
Are you there, Buddha? by Pip Harry
Title: Are you there, Buddha?
Author: Pip Harry
Genre/ issues: Middle grade. Verse novels. Coming of age.
Happy book birthday to the wonderful Are You There, Buddha? by the very talented Pip Harry. The second I saw this book I was transported back to my early teens, reminded of the impact that Judy Blume’s novel had on me, and I was thrilled to discover that the title was no coincidence. The verse novel introduces us to Bee, whose mother left to find herself in an ashram in India, and whose stepmother gives her a copy of Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret, in her ongoing attempts to connect with her. Bee reluctantly admits that it’s not a completely terrible book, and starts talking to Buddha in an attempt to feel connected with her mother, and begs for her first period to not arrive. Bee is a talented swimmer, and whilst she doesn’t have a close group of friends at school, her BFF Leon is a surfer, a fellow member of the swim team, and the hottest guy in year 8.
We follow Bee through starting high school, navigating a swim season, dealing with family changes, and her experiences with puberty hitting whether she’s ready for it or not, against the backdrop of bush fires, smoke haze and water restrictions. It’s beautifully written, insightfully capturing the voice of a unique, engaging and resilient main character who I quickly loved and cared about. Whilst it’s a beautiful homage to Blume’s timeless novel, Are You There, Buddha? is an important and powerful novel all of its own. A must-read for middle-grade and YA readers who could do with some reassurance that their experiences of navigating family, friends, and their changing bodies are completely normal, as well as adults who could do with the reminder of just what our young people are dealing with. A joyous, sweet and emotional book that is one of my favourites of the year so far.
Content notes (and spoilers): contains description of parental pressure and abuse of a side character, and description of the process of figuring out how tampons work. Neither are extended or explicit, and are presented with a gentle and insightful sensitivity and honesty to support readers and Bee through these experiences. It’s out today- get yourself a copy!