BANNED BOOK TUESDAY: Forever… by Judy Blume
JUDY BLUME & BANNED BOOK
Judy Blume is one of the most beloved, praised and inspiring young adult authors, penning treasured novels, which include the classics Blubber, Are you there God it’s me Margaret and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. She has earned some of the highest regards from her peers and garnered over 90 awards for her work. Although praised, many have stirred up a lot of controversy for their subject matter. Dealing with issues like bullying in Blubber, menstruation in Are you there God it’s me Margaret, to sex in Forever…, Judy has found herself on many banned books lists. Although, she has struggled with debate over her work, she will be forever… known as a classic children’s and young adult author who has touched children of all generations… forever….
Forever… is one of Blumes most controversial stories and appeared on the American Library Associations Most Frequently Challenged Books 1900-2000 at number seven. Blume published this book in the midst of the sexual revolution, when the world and particularly women were trying to break down barriers of sexual oppression. The books detailed depictions of sexual intercourse prompted the ban by many school systems, but the use of birth control drew the most criticism from religious and pro-abstinence groups.
I just finished the book by 80’s YA Goddess Judy Blume entitled Forever…. It was entirely about sex and I was stunned. This squeaky clean author who penned the childrens cautionary tale about bullying, entitled Blubber pulled no punches with regards to the once taboo subject matter and I loved it! The story, which follows a young girl named Kathrine and her boyfriend Michael through their final days in high school, is based entirely on the importance of having sex and its relationship to love. Looking for it, finding it and learning how to deal with its consequences. Katherine is a naïve virgin who is a senior in high school. The future is her design, but she isn’t sure which direction she is headed.
Until she meets Michael, the boy who changes everything.
For a half of a year, we learn to love alongside these two as they discover how hard it is to make correct choices and navigate the rocky side of relationships. Yet they seem to have it all, honest talks, similar interests and a mutual respect for the others wishes. The only thing that is missing is the sex, which seems to them to be the natural progression of their relationship. But Katherine doesn’t want her first time to be meaningless and she doesn’t want to go into it blind. After asking questions of anyone who will listen she comes to the conclusion, she wants the whole shebang, complete with heart melting love and a boy she will love forever. But forever isn’t always that simple.
Her heart and the relationship that she claims will last forever, is called into question when she leaves for summer vacation. Will her and Michael’s love survive the test of time, or is forever just a thing of high school dreams?
[divider top=”0″]REVIEW & INFLUENCE
Back when I was just shy of legally voting, but too old to believe in Santa Claus, if I wanted to relate to a book I needed to choose adult dramas because Judy Blume, as much as I loved her when I was 10, didn’t reach me emotionally anymore. YA wasn’t really intended for the older-young adult and (17+) teenagers were left choosing between Stephen King or the Goosebumps series and nine times out of ten, they chose King.
After reading Forever… I was shocked. Not for the stories content, but because it was published in 1975. A time when most books directed at the younger demographic were sticking to the sweet side of youth. Where was Forever… when I was searching or something to relate to? Well, apparently it was there, but never advertised for my age group, because this book is not your average 1970’s teen novel. It pushes the bounds of youthful tact and forces the issue at hand. The subject was so revealing that I was sure it was a later work of the author.
Blume’s characters, by sidling around the crass, are put through some very relevant scenarios. Katherine touches her boyfriends penis, performs acts of masturbation without being vulgar and Blume details this experience vividly. And although the issues of protection and birth control are not as taboo today as they were 10 years ago, these issues would have been unheard of in the seventies, eighties and even the early nineties. Blume further pushes the envelope by making her characters go that final step and engage in premarital sex. She discusses venereal disease, a peripheral character actually becomes pregnant forcing the characters to discuss abortion and adoption, and it examines impotency. And even though these topics are not new, we now have a different perspective on what kids are actually dealing with en masse.
By todays standard, much of Forever… would seem mundane, especially since the writing is simplistic, with short sentences and very little external detail. However, I still felt it went beyond what a lot of writers are willing to touch upon, even today. It is candid and honest as well as deep and irrational. Much like youth, not just of today, but always. The protagonist throws temper tantrums when she doesn’t get what she wants and her parents direct her actions, which causes much of the drama in the book. But along with all the normal kid antagonizing, this book is extremely explicit in its approach to sex, normally reserved for the adult genre. What Blume does well is frame it in a way that is youthful and relatable. Almost clinically at times, in a manner that a child might search for answers to the often-embarrassing subject. But her broaching of the theme doesn’t sidestep any of the feelings involved. We get a tamed down play-by-play, from the removal of clothes to the orgasm. The tone of the story doesn’t come across as seedy or seductive, dirty, but instead it is approached with a fresh perspective making the experiences new and exciting.
Presently, YA books touch on some very serious issues while using slang and curse words to convey the messages. Incest, LGBT, suicide, physical abuse, sex, pregnancy, rape and alcohol/drug abuse are just some of the situations authors are forcing their protagonists to deal with. Abuse is no longer a white trash or poor problem, bullying is no longer a side effect of testosterone and the majority of students in high schools across the country are having sex or thinking about it. Now teens aren’t being forced to look into the uncontrolled adult genre for real life strife for character connection. Don’t get me wrong there are many YA books that keep it squeaky clean, but lately many walk a very fine line between young and adult. And books like Forever… made it clear that the days where all kids read are those sugary Sweet Valley High books that depict self-absorbed female characters who pine endlessly over the hunky Varsity Quarter Back while seemingly skirting the issue of sex throughout the entire 500 book series that ends in college, has become passé. And in exchange, publishers are challenging young readers with topics that touch a grittier reality, a truer portrait of youth.
Part of the shift in the industry is because the world has changed and kids have spoken up, demanding stories that reference reality, wanting for books that are not a made up nuclear image force-fed upon society for eons, but mostly the shift happened because authors, like Judy Blume, paved the way… making the once impossible, possible. Showing readers that there is more.
Gay, abused, neglected, bullied kids, are no longer part of an unspoken subculture of society with literature that was exclusively reserved for non-fiction. They are becoming a major part of the mainstream and touching kids in more dynamic ways, which has proved necessary to the publishing industry, making Forever… more relevant than ever, especially since it still pushes those preconceived expectations. Forward movement is a product of its predecessors, pushing the publishing industry out of the Victorian era and causing the shift from fluff books that portray the ideal, to books that impress upon topics that kids are actually dealing with.
Overall, what Judy Blume did for the genre is open doors for emotional expansion. She showed the world that writing or reading about sex is not going to denigrate the youth of today. It will only offer them ways to deal with it, feel comforted and open dialogue. She was respectful in her messages, showing teens that they have options and readers (although it took a long while) listened and publishers responded. Instead of hiding their creative heads in the sand and pandering to conservative ideologies that urge the industry to steer clear of provocative subjects, a shift was triggered, and without authors who push boundaries and the distributors that decidedly printed or sold the provocative tales, this genre might have stayed stagnant permanently.