Forever . . . by Judy Blume
Forever is viewed through a nostalgic haze by many of my generation. Growing up in the eighties and early nineties, Judy Blume was the author to walk a young girl through the changes in her life, her body and her heart as she headed toward adulthood. I never read Forever as a teen, so I’m afraid my opinions are not at all tempered by warm and fuzzy feelings about a book that was, back in the day (1975 for those who are curious), groundbreaking.
What’s the big deal about Forever? Well, it talked about sex. Extremely explicitly. It also raised the question of contraception which is still controversial in many circles. But these days, to many teens, these are no longer shocking topics. Nor is Forever the only book in town that will allow teens to read about teens getting their lovin’ on. So other than being the first of its genre, does Forever have a lot going for it? Would I give it to a teen who wanted to read about these issues?
Honestly, I just can’t say that I would recommend it. In the first few chapters Kath meets her boyfriend, at which point they have some getting to know you conversations that basically indicate that they have nothing in common. After which they get together, fall madly in love and have some sex. I appreciate that many teen relationships are without a major connection, I still think it’s sort of selling teens short. There is teen love like Katherine’s which isn’t based on much, but there’s also a whole lot of teen love out there that is based on some type of deep connection however fleeting. There’s this crazy sense of closeness when you’re a teen and with someone who you feel understands you. I don’t ever see that from Katherine or Michael. I see a lot of teen lust. Which is fine, but shouldn’t really be confused with love. There’s also that Michael does a lot of pressuring her for sex while claiming that he’s not pressuring her. Just about every time she says no to something, he comes back with why? He also promises not to try things and then tries things. While these are certainly true for guys out there, there are a lot of great guys that don’t try to argue girls into sex. And since Michael’s being set up as one of the good guys here, it would be great if he were more respectful. Also, for all of the sex ed info in the book, I didn’t like how VD (as it was called back in the day) was treated almost as a joke. I guess the book was originally published before AIDS, but for a book to put all the weight on birth control and so little consideration to STDs is concerning for today’s audience.
And therefore, the question lurking in the back of my mind was “Has Forever been updated?” Those of you familiar with Blume will know that Are You There God… was updated to remove sanitary belts which would require a person over the age of forty and a diagram to try to explain to today’s kids. Well Forever has been updated, but for the copies I was able to find, it was not updated in the actual text. Instead, there’s a one page preface. I want a quick show of hands, how many of you read the preface? Okay, now think really hard about any teenagers you might know, or yourself as a teen. Would you have read the preface then? Also, libraries don’t always have copies with this shiny new safe sex preface. (You can read more about updates to Blume books here.) I would have much rather seen the actual Planned Parenthood visit updated to reflect today’s practices rather than the insertion of the oft-ignored preface.
I’d also like to cite Blume for completely unnecessary negative body image moments. One character is repeatedly referred to as fat. Both Katherine and her mother are 5’6 and 109 pounds, which is certainly on the tiny side by today’s standards. That doesn’t stop Katherine’s dad’s from warning her mom that she will develop flabby thighs if she doesn’t work out. This is brought up more than once. Yes, please, let’s send a message to teens that when you weigh 109 pounds you should worry about flab.
About the only good thing in this book was the positive open discussion between parents and their children about sex. So go that. Look, I certainly think that Forever has earned it’s place in young adult history. I just sort of wish it would stay there.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – The very first line of the book reveals that a girl has been laid by at least six different guys (this is the same girl who later gets pregnant, cementing the connection between sleeping around and getting knocked up – don’t worry if you love the person and have only one partner, this could never happen to you. Except that it can.) Katherine was broken up with by a guy who only wanted to have sex with her. There’s tongue kissing, bra removal. Erica finds used rubbers near her house. Michael asks if Katherine’s a virgin on their first date. Nothing like getting that out of the way fast. Katherine once had a babysitter who liked to sniff her father’s clothes, not while he was wearing them mind you, but ew. Erica and Katherine discuss sex openly, whether it should be about love, or just physical. Grandma kindly warns Katherine to be careful of pregnancy and venereal disease. Katherine tells what it’s like when she overhears her parents having sex. When Artie doesn’t make a move on Erica fast enough she asks him if he’s “queer.” There is dry humping to orgasm and a fairly detailed description of a hand job. Katherine talks to her mom about when her mom first had sex. Katherine visits a Planned Parenthood to get a prescription for the Pill which is the birth control she wants to use. Although she is tested for gonorrhea there’s no real discussion of STDs. A friend of Katherine’s gets pregnant, doesn’t know who the father is, doesn’t have an abortion, hides the pregnancy from her parents (fairly easily because “she’s so fat”) and lied to the doctor about being married. Both Erica and Katherine determine that they’d have an abortion in a minute. And of course, our big winner, multiple explicit sex scenes. Really. Like, insert Tab A to Slot B explicit. No euphemisms here!
Profanity– “bullshit,” “fuck/fucking,” “damn,” “bitch,” “shit,” “wise-ass,” “screwed,” “humped,” “fucked up”
Death, Violence and Gore – Katherine’s parents don’t want her to “park” with a boy, not because of anything she and the boy might do together, but because apparently there are lots of crazies who like to prey on young couples who are parking. Anyone else heard any good ghost stories lately? Is this still a concern (no really, I’m serious, is it?) A character’s grandparent dies.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – In describing her mom, Katherine says that her mother can “polish off as much beer as she wants.” Michael’s older sister and her husband smoke a joint. Michael admits that he sometimes smokes with them and Katherine has tried it before and didn’t like it. Michael and Erica get drunk. Legally. Because way back when this was written the drinking age was 18. At a party, lots of kids smoke grass. Pretty much all the main characters have a least one drink at some point.
Frightening or Intense Things – A friend threatens and then attempts suicide and is sent to a psychiatric hospital.