Author: Judy Blume
Synopsis: Teenagers fall in love. There is some sex. The book was banned a lot. (Sounds good, right?)
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I heard about Forever long before I actually read it.
In 2005 I had just graduated from college and was living in Senegal. In lieu of care packages, my mother had a habit of sending me long articles from The New Yorker or copies of book chapters she liked. One day she sent me a Caitlin Flanagan article from The Atlantic Monthly titled, “Are you there, God? It’s Me, Monica: How Nice Girls got so Casual about Oral Sex.”* The article focused on changing norms in teen sexuality (read: OMG teens are having oral sex). Flanagan mentioned Judy Blume, and Forever, extensively. By the end of the article I was fairly nonplussed about the whole teen oral sex thing but I was shocked – shocked, I tell you – to know that there was a Judy Blume book I hadn’t read.
A few years later – having forgotten to read Forever – I was sitting in my work carpool when a woman came on the radio and described reading Forever as a teenage girl. She didn’t skirt around the book’s main attraction: Forever is about teen love and teen sex. More specifically, it is about a young woman falling in love and then pursuing and enjoying sex. I should mention that I carpool with three men, one of whom is the Deputy Director of my program. It was silent in the car while the woman spoke. When she finished I barely stopped myself (and I mean just in time) from sighing, “Man. I really need to read
A few days later I made a special trip to the bookstore to pick up Forever before a flight out of town. I finished the book before my first connection landed.
It. Was. Phenomenal.
Why? Well, first of all I misspoke earlier. The protagonist, Katherine, doesn’t pursue sex. She considers it thoughtfully with the help of her partner, who loves and respects her. She goes to Planned Parenthood to get The Pill (after lunch with her Grandma). She reads a newspaper article that tells her “enjoyable lovemaking…takes time, effort and patience.” Then she goes and makes some enjoyable love that you get to read about in fun amounts of detail. Even if the book weren’t enjoyable to read I’d still be putting it high on my list of “books to subtly give my hypothetical teen daughters.”
The thing is, the book is enjoyable to read. Blume writes with a teenager’s heart and an adult’s mind. This juxtaposition forms the genius behind all of her books, but nowhere is this balance more artful than in Forever. Had I read this book as a teenager I would have felt – no I would have known – that I was just like Katherine, and that she and Michael (her boyfriend) should be together forever. Reading it as an adult brought up visceral memories of my first love, but it also reminded me of the lessons I learned from it. As I read, my teenage heart was there with me. I felt Katherine’s all-consuming love for Michael and hated her parents’ efforts to keep them apart. All the while, my 28 year-old self sighed in the background, worried about Katherine’s future and noted that first loves almost never last. These two selves – both part of me, both important – battled it out for 192 pages. When the book ended I couldn’t tell if I was happy or sad but one of my selves (I won’t tell you which) knew that the ending was right.
Both of my selves know this: If you were ever a teenage girl, you should read Forever. If you have a teenage girl, you should read Forever. If you have ever loved, will ever love, or know someone who has ever loved a teenage girl, you should read Forever.
*What, is that weird? For my mother? No. I think she sent it because it mentioned Judy Blume so extensively…but to be honest she might have sent it anyway.