Forever by Judy Blume
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Forever is a story about a teenager’s first love and first time (having sex). Katherine and Michael are two older teenagers who meet, hit it off, and start dating. He wants to have sex with her, she’s not entirely sure if she wants to, but then she agrees and they do it. There are no horrific consequences – she doesn’t get pregnant, she doesn’t catch an STD, and she doesn’t die – and this is what sets it apart from other books depicting this kind of story (at least at the time it was published).
The story is a fairly realistic depiction of teenage romance – actual teenage romance without a paranormal element and rainbows and fireworks if and when the main characters have sex. There are scenes where both main characters acquire contraception – something a lot of YA writers leave out, because it ruins the romance of it all. This is where the book really excels – and why it is still a bestseller today – it’s realistic. There’s premature ejaculation and awkwardness and the whole ‘making-a-big-deal-of-it-all’ aspect of high school. Katherine and Michael are not soulmates (although they believe it at the time) and their relationship doesn’t even last the summer. Sure, there are people who marry their first boyfriend and live happily ever after, but it just isn’t the norm in real life (although it seems to be in YA). Michael’s had sex before, and I’d love to see more of this in fiction – real, experienced characters, especially girls. Every YA heroine seems to be an innocent virgin, and every villain is a sexually promiscuous bad girl – and it only reinforces slut-shaming and the idea that once you’ve had sex your personality miraculously changes.
The whole story is pretty progressive. Kath’s parents would rather have her having sex at home that god-knows-where, and her grandmother sends her pamphlets on all-sorts of relevant information – abortion and contraception. There’s a character questioning his sexuality and experimenting. There’s an attempted suicide, due to said questioning. It’s only disappointing that, forty years after this book was first published, so much of the story is relevant today. Teenagers are still having sex (shock horror), but there’s still controversy around non-heterosexual characters, abortion, and even just sex in general in YA fiction. In Kath’s world, there is no shame over having sex, using contraception, having an abortion – they’re seen as sensible, responsible choices. Unfortunately we don’t live in that world just yet.
Forever is known for being teenage girls’ first read of realistic sex. The topics involved (and the age of the main characters) suggest this book is for older girls, but the writing style is simplistic, and I almost felt a little too old to be reading it. The whole plot seems a little undercooked – at only 200 pages long, I would have happily read a book with a bit more padding. Some really interesting sub-plots are touched on briefly – Sybil’s hidden pregnancy, Jamie’s first experiences of love, and Artie’s possible homosexuality – which really would have brought the book into its own had they been expanded on. I think the tone and style of the book is really a remnant of the era in which it was first published – it reminds me a lot of the books I read published in the 1980s and 1990s, like Animal Ark and The Babysitters Club, rather than the high-octane paranormal fantasy romances that dominate YA today.
Ultimately, this is a book written to teach girls about safe, realistic sex. It more than achieves in that aim – and it’s a testament that girls are still reading it today. If it was a little longer, maybe those who don’t normally read, wouldn’t bother to read it.
I would kind of love to see a new Forever on the market though – a cult bestseller written today that portrays sex and being a teenager realistically. I’d also like to see a book that touches on the same theme but is aimed at boys – Forever is told through a girl’s perspective (as many YA novels are), and I’d be interested to read something from the other side for once!
(Also, my 2015 copy has a lovely design (a simple cherry) which isn’t as cheesy as some of the others and has red gilded edges)
Did you enjoy Forever? Do you have any recommendations? Tweet me at @annalisebooks or comment below 🙂
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