Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Sunday, March 04, 2012


How could I have taught English for so many years and not read Judy Blume's Forever?

Recently, however, I finally got around to reading this 1975 novel, written before young adult books were even called YA. Forever, which won the 1996 Margaret A. Edwards Award,  has gone through several editions. Obviously Forever is a popular book to have lasted so long. What's it about? (Warning: Spoiler Alert)

Katherine ("Kath") and Michael, two seniors at separate high schools in New Jersey, meet at a New Year's Eve party. Soon they're dating and getting serious. Yep—eventually they have s*x (which Kath, the narrator, is pretty explicit about), but not until after they've vowed to love each other forever. And they're careful and responsible. However, their forever love unravels after Kath—at her parents' insistence—goes to work as a tennis instructor at a summer camp and Michael goes to work at a relative's lumberyard in North Carolina. Kath, despite her forever love for Michael, finds a fellow counselor attractive. After Kath's grandfather dies, the fellow counselor comforts her. When Michael arrives unexpectedly at camp to see Kath, an argument ensues, and—well—you can guess the rest. Their love isn't forever after all.

The novel was pretty edgy in the 70s. Now, it's just kind of sweet. Kath's parents are still in love with each other, and Kath gets along with her 12-year-old sister. Kath's mother is supportive but not intrusive; for instance, she provides Kath with an article about teenage sexuality which gives Kath something to think about. Kath puts off having sex with Michael because she's "not ready." When they do have a relationship, they're responsible—he uses a condom; she visits a Margaret Sanger clinic in New York to get the pill.

Since Forever was written so long ago—Kath would now be the same age as the target readerships' grandmothers!—it's very dated. Hence, no smartphones, no Skype, no Facebook or other social media, no texting or even emailing. They listen to records, not iPods. Michael calls Kath on her family's landline and she takes the call upstairs to have some privacy. Since they go to separate schools, they only see each other on weekends. When she's in Vermont and he's in North Carolina, they correspond via snail mail. 

Would girls today be able to relate to the lack of instant access? I don't know. They could probably relate, though, to Kath's feelings and emotions, her difficult choices, and perhaps her acceptance of responsibility. Some things don't change.

Despite being  somewhat dated, Forever is an excellent book for a mother to discuss with her teenage daughter. The novel is explicit, however, and some parents might have problems with Kath's descriptions of what she and Michael do. In fact, Forever ranks #7 on the American Library Association's 100 most frequently challenged books for 1990-1999 but drops to #16 for the 2000-2009 list. Even after all these years, lot of folks apparently want to see it banned from school libraries and public libraries. 

In a letter to "Friends at Sugarloaf School," who had apparently made Blume aware of a controversy about Forever, Blume says in part:

. . . Forever is sexually explicit, but it deals with emotions and responsibilities. You can't go back to holding hands, as Katherine's mother says in the book, so you'd better think ahead. I wrote the book with a young teenage audience in mind. When kids ask how old they should be before reading it, I urge them to wait until they are at least twelve and then to take their questions to a caring adult. But I've had letters from kids even younger who say they read and understood every word in the book - and letters from older teens who started it, didn't feel ready, and put it down. Kids don't read books that make them feel uncomfortable.  
When one adult or group of adults demands the removal of a book from a school or library, those adults are making a statement to the students. This book has something in it we don't want you to know about. We don't want to deal with this subject. We don't want to answer your questions. Your questions make us uncomfortable. Calling it smut, as someone recently did in the Citizen's Voice, only makes kids more anxious to read it, and leaves them thinking they can't ever go their parents with questions. As a parent, you can tell your child you don't want him/her to read a book. What you can't do is make that decision for all parents and their children. I encourage parents to use Forever as a bridge to communication, to use Katherine and Michael to help them talk about topics they may not have discussed before. If their values are different from Katherine's and her family's, fine. They can tell their children what's right for their family and why.  
What matters is that young people continue to have a choice in reading materials. What may not be right for one parent's child may be exactly right for another's. Imagine if we pulled every book from the school library that presents ideas and situations we may not agree with ourselves! Instead, if we learn to talk to our kids, listen to what they have to say, and learn to trust them, we won't have to worry about the books they choose to read. 

On her website, Judy Blume has this to say about censorship. And on this page, she tells why she wrote Forever

I'm glad I finally got around to reading Forever. I wish I had recommended it years ago to some students of mine when they were struggling with difficult choices.



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