The latest instalment in the Popsugar Reading Challenge is A Book You Can Finish in a Day. My choice for this was Judy Blume’s Forever.
When I was a pre-teen, I rapidly read my way through all of Judy Blume’s books but this one passed me by. Probably just as well as I would have been a little too young for its contents, which I think are more suited for girls aged 14+ (although a quick look on the internet shows that others my age who read Forever did so when they were 13, with copies hidden under pillows, away from parental discovery).
Forever has courted controversy every since it was first published in 1975, as it deals, frankly, with teenage sexuality generally and, more specifically, with a young woman’s first sexual encounter. There is not much plot beyond what happens between Katherine and her boyfriend Michael as their relationship develops from simple dating to a full-blown physical relationship – but that is the exact point of the novel. It takes an honest approach to showing how a responsible young adult approaches sex, and Katherine is a good role model for girls in this respect – she doesn’t allow her boyfriend Michael to pressure her into anything she’s not comfortable with. She also takes responsibility for her contraceptive choices, travelling into New York to attend a special sexual health clinic for teenagers. Katherine is an empowered female making important decisions about her own body, away from parental concerns and peer pressure. Katherine’s body is her own and she doesn’t need permission from anybody about what she should do with it.
Additionally, her parents are pretty cool about boyfriends, and she has a very modern grandmother, who sends her leaflets on safe sex in the post (bear in mind, again, that this was the mid-1970s). This shows a forward-thinking family, who don’t try to scare a girl into celibacy or making her feel bad or disgusting for having sexual thoughts and needs. Blume stated that, growing up in the 1950s, she was told that there were two groups of girls – nice and naughty. No prizes for guessing which girls were the ones who participated in, and enjoyed, sex…
In a country that still has difficulty with teenage sexual emancipation, this book has constantly faced the censors’ wrath. Not only does it show sex as a normal, natural thing for teens to want to engage in, she shows how they can take responsibility for their own bodies, without deferring to parental permission. Schools and public libraries in some areas of the USA have fought to have Forever banned because of its honest look at sexuality (including an early portrayal of a boy’s struggle with latent homosexuality). Blume first published the book during the sexual revolution of the Seventies, which explains the enlightened attitudes of Katherine’s mother and grandmother. One might imagine, or expect, that things would have moved on since then but Blume thinks otherwise, stating that religious fundamentalism has grown in power since the 1980s, as she revealed in an interview in the Guardian:
“The 70s was a much more open decade in America… Forever was used in several school programmes then, helping to spur discussions of sexual responsibility. This would never happen today. How are young people supposed to make thoughtful decisions if they don’t have information and no one is willing to talk with them? Girls and boys have to learn to say ‘no’ or ‘not without a condom’ without fear. I hear from too many young people who give in because they’re afraid if they don’t, their partner will find someone else.”
Interestingly, Forever doesn’t seem to have dated much and that is because the issues central to the story are perennial teenage concerns. And Judy Blume has a gift for portraying these sensitively, in a voice that her readers immediately identify with. She is informative yet reassuring, like the cool aunt you want to share your problems with, who you know will understand what you’re feeling and who won’t judge you.
Forever isn’t a long book which is why I got through it so quickly. But I think it’s a very important novel for girls in particular – from around 14 years upwards. It’s quite amazing, really, that this book will have informed a generation of females (my generation) in the 1970s and 1980s, and that it is still relevant to their children nowadays, and probably beyond.
Have you read any Judy Blume books? Which are your favourites?