This week, I delved into a personal favorite title from my own adolescence: Forever, by Judy Blume. This book was one that my girl friends and I passed around in middle school, using it as a study manual for all things sexual. I chose this familiar title for my independent study reading list for a number of reasons. First, I wanted the chance to revisit a book that mattered to me as a teen in a scholarly way; second, this novel has both lasting appeal and controversy, having remained in print and on the banned books list since it was released in 1975; and third, I chose this book because one of the common myths I’m trying to debunk about the YA/NA divide is that “NA is just YA with sex”, and there’s no denying that Forever is very much a YA book…with a lot of sex.
The story revolves around Katherine and Michael, two high school seniors who meet at New Years and fall head over heels in love with each other. Sex takes center stage in their relationship, with the slightly more experienced Michael leading the way, and the book is filled with frank discussions about birth control, responsibility, teen pregnancy, and even an aside about suicidal teens. Blume has even written a new forward to the book, talking about sexual responsibility in the 70s versus today (to explain why Katherine relies solely on the pill, whereas today she should have insisted on a barrier method, as well), and it’s great to see an author who’s always been forward thinking remaining engaged with her work and her audience and trying to promote sexual safety.
It was interesting for me to revisit this novel with an adult, critical eye: I found it much less romantic than I remembered, and I even had a hard time swooning for the male love interest. Still, it’s easy to see why this title is still making the rounds; the frank discussion of sexuality without much erotic overlay is something that I believe we need to encourage among young adults, and this book hits the mark.
Why it’s YA
Although sexuality dominates the pages of the story, there’s a deeper story at work, too; that fraught sense of becoming (and failing) that accompanies the final months of high school, when the possibilities for life both broaden and narrow considerably. Kath and Michael struggle with college choices, work, and family, all while trying to fit their forever love into their impending adulthood, but reading this as an adult, it’s easy to see that they are only playing house; their “forever” best exists disconnected from the realities of the world, in a way that reminds me of my own high school relationships. Despite the sexual nature of their relationship, Kath and Michael really aren’t faced with adult decisions; they are still very much adolescents, and they respond in suitable ways to the challenges they encounter.
What about you? Have you read FOREVER? What did you think?