It seems cliché to say that a book changed my life, but at the tender age of 12, Forever by Judy Blume truly did.
I feel as a girl I had been inundated with countless novels that glorified love, warts and all. Regardless of whether Edward in Twilight was a control freak, he was the ideal, apparently. I felt like all my life I’d been led down the lane of Prince Charmings, happy-ever-afters and what I knew to be somewhat disingenuous love stories.
However, on a boring Monday afternoon, when i’d been dragged to the local Tesco of all places, I discovered Judy Blume’s 1975 controversial novel. Forever deals with female sexuality and teenage hormones better than any other novel I’ve read and though perhaps I was a bit young to be reading something like this, it was a breath of fresh air from there usual romantic drivel.
Because of the novel’s content, it has been the frequent target of censorship and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000, placing at number seven. Realistically though, this book is the perfect accompaniment to the birds and the bees talk, sex education in school and the ceremonial handing over of tampons and sanitary towels. I firmly believe all women should read this novel, it’s empowering, seductive and at its heart firmly realistic.
The book follows Katherine, in the middle of her senior year in high school, who finds herself strongly attracted to Michael, a boy she meets at a New Year’s party. As their relationship unfolds, the issue of sex comes up more as an emotional and health issue than as a moral one. Both of them are aware that physical intimacy is both common and complicated. Michael has had sex before, while Katherine has not. Their relationship progresses slowly as they begin to go on dates and trips together; they are accompanied on various meetings by Katherine’s friend, Erica, who believes that sex is a physical act and not a romantic one. Erica and Katherine are also joined by Michael’s friend Artie, who, with Erica’s help, explores and acknowledges some uncertainty about his own sexuality. Artie is a depressed teenager who feels like life is over after high school. His depression escalates when he attempts to hang himself from his shower curtain rod but fails.
When Katherine and Michael do have sex, rather unromantically, on Michael’s sister’s bedroom floor, they are sure it seals a love that will last”forever”. However, separated for the summer by work that takes them to two different states, Katherine finds herself aware of the limitations of the relationship and is ultimately attracted to a tennis instructor, Theo, who is older and more experienced in life. She takes responsibility for breaking the news to Michael when he comes on a surprise visit and almost catches her and Theo together. Katherine realizes the “loss” of Michael, while painful at first, can be the start of new successful relationships. The book ends with Katherine’s mother giving her a message that Theo called for her.
What is important here is that we don’t have a typical girl meets boy, girl falls in love, ‘some tragedy strikes but it all works out in the end’ structure. Blume is known for the eloquent yet somewhat brash style of writing where cocks and periods are talked about with flourish, dignity and honesty. When you have your grandma telling you one day you’ll “meet a nice boy and settle down” this book gave me hope for more. That my life didn’t need to be dictated by a romance, that a woman could have more than that. Rather odd for a story about virginity right? Well, not really.
This novel outlines that first love isn’t always forever love, that it’s ok not to find “the one” at 16 and that you can be a full person without someone else. For me, this is the feminist novel all teenage girls need placed on their bookshelf. Rather than fluffy stories about prince charmings and perfect deflowering stories, they need the reality that it might not be perfect the first time, it’s probably going to be awkward but guess what? It doesn’t define you.
Forever is written by Judy Blume in 1975.