So I read the mucky bits. Of course I did. I read the rest of the book, too, and recently I thought I’d have another look at it.
Forever tells the story of Katherine and Michael, who meet at a fondue party (it’s set in the seventies) at a mutual friend’s house. They start dating, fall in love and very soon Michael starts pushing Kath to have sex. They do, but then they are separated over the summer holidays when Katherine goes off to work as a camp counselor and Michael has a job back home. Katherine meets Theo, an older camp counselor who is more worldly and starts thinking that maybe first love doesn’t last forever...
Judy Blume wrote some really relevant ‘issues’ books in the seventies and eighties: Blubber (the bullying book), Deenie (the masturbation/body image book), Tiger Eyes (the bereavement book) and Forever (the sex book). I remember reading somewhere that Forever came about after Judy Blume’s daughter complained to her mum that sex in YA books was always shown as having negative consequences (teen pregnancy and the clap). And I think really that’s what Forever will always be remembered for. It was the book that told everyone, ‘You know what? Teenagers do have sex. It doesn’t mean they’re morally corrupt and as long as they’re sensible it doesn’t always end badly.’
Forever was groundbreaking, there’s no doubt about it, and it broke down some taboos in writing that paved the way for a lot of the excellent YA books that are around today.
I had some major issues with this book, though.
At points it seems like the whole message of the book is, ‘First love never lasts. Get over it.’ Which is, you know, pragmatic, but not terribly romantic.
The plot doesn’t really do much; it’s just centred around teenagers deciding whether or not to have sex. The writing is a bit flat and the conversations are cheesy and stilted.
Katherine seems like a nice enough girl, albeit a little boring, and she is sensible enough to tell Michael that she is not ready to have sex with him. He, however, sulks and continues to pressure her and she eventually capitulates. When they do have sex, it’s consensual, but she didn’t really seem that into it and I really didn’t like the way he pressured her and just kept going on about it. Not cool. It’s like the message is, ‘Girls: boys are horn dogs. It’s their thing. They’ll wear you down eventually, no doubt about it.’
Michael is also reluctant to use contraception, so again the message is, ‘Girls: you’re the ones who need to take responsibility for contraception, because boys never bother with that sort of thing’, when in fact contraception should be the responsibility of both parties.
I also forgot one crucial element of Forever.
“Katherine...I’d like you to meet Ralph.”
Ralph is Michael’s penis. He named his penis.
So, yeah. Michael’s a dick. He’s just basically this lust-consumed, hormonal, emotionally manipulative idiot. His obsession with getting into Katherine’s knickers is the only thing we really know about him, so he comes across as really one-dimensional, which in turn made me wonder why Katherine was with him.
All in all, a big ‘well done’ has to go out to Judy Blume, on so thoroughly pushing the envelope as far as YA content is concerned. For the time she was writing (1975), this was a major advance in YA literature. Forever is still one of the most controversial books in America, but it seems that the controversy stems more from its sexual content rather than how flat the story is, the general unpleasantness of the characters and its outdated messages.