Forever by Judy Blume
Blume wrote Forever back in 1975, long before the YA subdivision in children’s publishing had been conceived of. Her novel of “first love, first sex and first heartbreak” was a brave one then, resulting in it being banned in many schools and libraries. However it became an underground and later mainstream hit with its message of sexual responsibility and has, ever since, remained in print, helping teenaged girls struggling with the dilemma of whether, when and how to lose their virginity.
It’s not the kind of YA book I’d normally read, but I’ve recently read Patrick Ness’s new book, Release, which I’ll be reviewing for Shiny soon, and he says that the book is suffused with Mrs Dalloway and Forever. I immediately went off to read Mrs Dalloway (reviewed here) followed by Forever.
*** SPOILER ALERT***
The subject matter of the book is clear from the very first sentence:
Sybil Davison has a genius I.Q. and has been laid by at least six different guys.
Our narrator is Katherine, still a virgin in her High School Senior year. She goes to Sybil’s New Year party with her best friend Erica, and that’s where she meets Michael. There’s an instant attraction, and when she goes to collect her records from Sybil’s, Michael is there. They go for a drive:
Finally he kissed me. It was a nice kiss, warm but not sloppy.
Before he let me out at Sybil’s house, Michael stopped the car and kissed me again. ‘You’re delicious,’ he said.
They start going out, and take things slowly at first. It is not until she goes on a skiing trip that they plan to finally have sex, but Katherine’s period coming on precludes that. However Michael introduces Katherine to ‘Ralph’! Soon after they go to New York and have sex at his sister’s apartment, cementing their relationship ‘Forever’. They plan to have a long summer together before going off to college, but circumstances conspire – they both get summer jobs in different states. Katherine is initially bereft, but as the weeks go by, she finds that absence doesn’t necessarily make the heart grow fonder, as she fancies her colleague Theo, a tennis coach who is a few years older…
Katherine and Michael may be the central characters in the novel, but there is nothing extraordinary about their relationship. Blume captures Katherine’s mental agonies about how fast to go well, and when they do make love, we get detail – but nothing is gratuitous, it is tender, romantic and consensual.
More interesting, and certainly more challenging at the time of publication, is the secondary pairing in the novel. Michael has a close friend called Artie, who double-dates Erica with them. Erica doesn’t have Katherine’s rose-tinted glasses, seeing sex realistically. Artie, however, is confused about his own sexuality wondering if he is gay. Erica tells Katherine she is helping him to decide, but eventually she breaks up with him after Artie tells her of suicidal thoughts. He soon does attempt suicide and is hospitalised, leaving Erica distraught for failing him.
In the edition I read, Blume writes a short preface, updating advice on STDs, AIDS and birth control methods. There is also a very good pair of pages of discussion points at the end of the novel. Being a High School novel, it has its cheesy moments, but Forever is a novel that is still relevant today, promoting individual sexual responsibility and explaining about sex and love in a non-sensational (although 1970s) way. The latest edition attempts to sex that up a bit with a rather direct cherry on the cover (right) – I prefer the daisies! I can, however, see why Patrick Ness loved this book so. (7/10)
Source: Own copy
Judy Blume, Forever (1975), Macmillan Children’s Books, paperback 182 pages.