Forever, Judy Blume

It’s my most favorite time of the year…  Banned Book Week! Last year I blogged about Judy Blume’s “love letter to periods.” I’m going to continue on my Judy Blume Banned Book Week Blog kick for a couple of reasons.

1- Judy has been challenged so often I’m pretty sure the only book that hasn’t been banned may be The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo.  If you haven’t read it, it’s about the middle child getting an important part in the school play.  I exaggerate, but I’m 99% sure that one hasn’t been banned and I can’t think of the others that haven’t been banned. (I don’t know about the plethora of others: Fudge, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing…  I’m sure they’re okay.)
2-I’m in a YA Lit class, which is pretty awesome. I had to do a video book report on a “historical YA fiction novel.”  (Meaning, a book that changed YA history.)  I did my report on Forever. I’d consider posting the video, except that  it’s really awkward. I actually enjoyed doing research about the book.

Usual banned book stuff, WITH HISTORICAL FACTS AND FIGURES!

Synopsis: Katherine and Michael are high school seniors in their first serious relationship.  Their physical relationship moves really quickly, but there’s a natural progression to it (it’s not like they immediately jump in bed together; Katherine is a virgin and has  say in what she does). Her parents are actually really good influences on her, and Mom in particular reminds her that she “can’t go back to holding hands.” The kids do end up “going all the way.”

When things start moving too fast (like Katherine changing her college choice to be with Michael “forever”), both sets of parents decide to separate the two for the summer.  Michael goes to NC, Katherine goes to a tennis camp. The couple ends up breaking up after Katherine thinks she may have feelings for another counselor. She doesn’t regret anything.

So, that story sounded kinda boring. What’s the big deal? 

Sex, of course.

Judy’s daughter, Randy, asked her mom to write a story about teenagers having sex without dire consequences.  Until 1975, when Forever was published, sexually active teens in stories ended up pregnant, disease-ridden, married to miscreant (of course unhappily), some have grisly, illegal abortions, and in extreme cases, dead from a bad delivery or disease.  (And of course, the girl suffered the consequences and didn’t even want sex in the first place.) Forever essentially stems from the idea that you can be responsible and educated with your sex life, and both males and females have hormones. And sure, there are consequences to sex, but sometimes they’re just matters of the heart.

What do you mean, even in the ’70’s they had books with sex horror stories? That sounds like the ’50’s! 

Well, they didn’t have as many resources as you would have thought up until that point. Most of this comes from Planned Parenthood: Who We Are.

  • In 1966, LBJ singled out four health issues for America, and one of them was lack of family planning.
  • As a result, the U.S. Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare created a program to provide contraceptives to low-income, married women.
  • Nixon declared birth control a national priority in 1970.
  • 1973- Roe v. Wade
  • In 1976, the Supreme Court rules that women do not have to get parental or spousal permission for an abortion.

Basically, the resources we have today were limited up until the 1970’s, and I don’t know if Forever could have been written earlier.

Blume does throw in some sex ed. while she’s writing Forever. She makes a point to say in an updated preface that in the 1970’s, responsible sex was not getting pregnant. They didn’t really worry about STDs (or VD in the novel) because AIDS wasn’t the epidemic then that it became in the ’80’s. Katherine visits a clinic to get pills, but before that they did use a condom.

And there are consequences from sex in the novel that are the normal run-of-the-mill sort for that time. Katherine’s friend Sybil IS pregnant throughout the book, but she hides it because she “wants the experience of having birth.” She comments that her parents would have made her have an abortion if they had known. Sign of the times…

Michael has had a fling before, and it did result in a VD. He is clean by the time he meets Katherine, but I think that does say a LOT that his STD came from a girl he met on vacation. Known for three days and jumping in the sack does not equal “responsible sex life” is all I’m saying.

Basically, because of the movements to educate teens and help guide them to make responsible decisions, Forever was possible. The resources that they had before that point were somewhat limited. The 1950’s were a little prudish in their values, and the 1960’s were all about free love. The 1970’s (while still being pretty sexual) were trying to even out the two extremes. 

Challenge-worthy?

Nowadays, sex permeates our culture to the point where we barely notice it. Forever is revolutionary for its time. It tries to educate teens about sex without being preachy. I’m sure people have said that there aren’t any consequences to sex in the book, but it’s not true. Although Katherine doesn’t have any STDs or pregnancy, others in the book do. And, sometimes, you can just end up with a couple broken hearts and hurt friendships. Life moves on and you learn from it.

I used this Amazon review in my presentation, which is also helpful in understanding the big deal:

Judy Blume was the first author to write candidly about a sexually active teen, and she’s been defending teenagers’ rights to read about such subjects ever since. Here, Blume tells a convincing tale of first love–a love that seems strong and true enough to last forever…. As always, Blume writes as if she’s never forgotten a moment of what it’s like to be a teenager.”

Now, with all that being said, I totally get why a parent would flip if they saw their kid reading it. If they said, “But I got it from Ms. Bookworm!” I’d definitely understand why they’d request for me to get fired.  The sex scenes are explicit.  Now, can they google something as scandalous for a fan fic? Sure.  I think with this book it’s just a matter of age appropriate-ness.

I clearly cannot put it in my classroom, but that’s because I am a middle school teacher. It’s not age-appropriate for anyone at my school. Blume’s children’s publishing company made a adult section for Forever to get published. Yep. I didn’t read this until college or even after I was married, but probably because I didn’t know about it. I’d probably say 16 and up for this one. 

I sort of feel like the fun in a banned/challenged book is sneaking around with it. I remember reading in (I think) In her Shoes  and at one point one character jokes about finding a dog-earred copy of Forever hidden between her sister’s mattress.
Public library? Sure, keep it.
School library? Debatable.
Book stores? Oh yeah, keep selling it.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Forever, Judy Blume

  1. I’ve read a few reviews for this book, but yours is the first review that actually made me want to read it. So I did, it was awesome.

  2. Pingback: Forever - Highbun Librarian

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