I love Judy Blume. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is the only fiction book I’ve ever read that actually answered questions about puberty, I thought Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself was amazing, and I don’t think anyone can get out of elementary school without at least one of the Fudge books.
Somehow, though, I missed Forever… Probably because this is a young adult book, and when I reached the age when I would have picked it up, I was too busy hiding in the fantasy section of my school library or spending every last cent of my pocket money on manga to bother with realistic prose fiction.
In this book, Katherine begins seeing Michael, a boy she sees herself falling in love with, and with whom she becomes progressively more physically intimate: kissing, touching, more touching, and finally, sex. Blume’s language is very straightforward, which is a little off-putting, since I never feel quite as wrapped up in the drama of Katherine’s life as I do in current YA. But it’s also great. Blume’s not just showing us the high emotional drama of teenage love, but getting across the real facts of teenagers having sex, thinking about it, worrying, learning how to protect themselves (Katherine makes a trip to Planned Parenthood, which is wonderfully blandly honest), and how having sex changes a relationship and makes the potential end very different. Also, the sometimes blunt language makes this book a little more explicit than other books, with no implied sex — we know when it’s happened — and no romantic descriptions of how wonderful it is (it hurts, and doesn’t work right the first few times). Again, like Margaret, I can’t think of another novel that deals with this idea so specifically, and so clearly.
Written in 1975, there a lot of parts of Forever… that are a little dated, some of which Judy Blume blessedly addresses in an introductory note, like ways to protect yourself during sex for reasons other than avoiding pregnancy. There are some other things, like how relationships are viewed — “going together”, and parents that want their daughter to date more boys — that were completely foreign to my own adolescence. But hey, I got over that in Margaret, so that would not have been a stretch for me.
There are also a few times where I have problems with the way Michael interacts with and pressures Kath. He pushes her towards being more intimate, and at one point sits in her room while she changes even though she asks him to leave. Then, when they do have sex the first time they have sex he almost doesn’t put a condom on, because “Didn’t you finish your period?” Part of it is, probably, again, the time (40 years ago!) and some misinformation about how getting pregnant works. And, though he complains, they don’t go forward with things until she’s ready, and Kath does make him go get condoms. Still, it made me uncomfortable to read those parts, and in a modern YA some of those things would have been a bad sign — but, then again, maybe that’s why the relationship finally does end.
I finished the book in one afternoon, and while I had my issues, and wasn’t as emotionally charged after finishing it as I was with something like Eleanor and Park, I’m glad I finally picked it up. It’s a big regret that I never found this book as a teenager. Forever… answered more questions than health class ever dared to ask, and made sex seem like less of a scary or even bad thing and more of a thing you could decide to do or not to do, depending on what you feel for yourself and the person you’re with.