Forever …, published in 1975, is Judy Blume's eleventh book and in some ways has remained a troublesome publication for the author. Despite the fact that it is one of the most popular with her readers, it is also one of the most controversial of Blume's books, with some librarians and county officials having banned it shortly after it appeared and as recently as 2005. The book even has made it on the American Library Association's (ALA) top one hundred banned books list.
The controversy revolves around the candid discussion of teenage sex that Forever … provides. Some parents have complained that they could understand why the book might have been banned when they were teens in the 1970s, but they do not understand why it is banned in the early 2000s. Despite their arguments, however, Blume's book still stirs the emotions and not just of those who read it for enjoyment.
The story is about young love, the first sexual encounter of a high school girl. Katherine, the protagonist, wants to make her first experience mean something. She does not want to lose her virginity merely for the sake of physical satisfaction or curiosity. She wants her relationship with her boyfriend Michael to have emotions attached to it. Her and Michael's relationship deepens, and finally she relents to his gentle suggestions.
Katherine learns more than just what it means to have a sexual relationship. She matures through the process, gains confidence, and discovers that when one is young, sometimes "forever" does not mean the same thing as "everlasting."
Judy Blume was born February 12, 1938, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. She attended New York University and was married before she earned her degree in education in 1961. By 1970, Blume had two children and had published two somewhat traditional children's books, but neither of them exhibited what would become the author's trademark: frank subject matter aimed at an adolescent audience. Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (1970) was the first book to draw notice, not all of it positive. In the 1970s, placing frank discussion about first bras, menstruation, and breasts in a novel was not considered proper. But of course, Blume's young readers loved it. Libraries, however, had trouble with it. According to Karen Holt, in an article written for Publishers Weekly, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret "is one of five books by Blume that appear on the American Library Association's list of most frequently challenged books of the 1990s." The other four, according to Holt, are Blume's Deenie (1973), Blubber (1974), Forever … (1975), and Tiger Eyes (1981).
Between 1970 and the early 1990s, Blume wrote eighteen more young adult novels and three novels for adult readers. One of her most loveable characters, Farley Drexel Hatcher (called "Fudge") was first brought to life in Blume's Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (1972). Blume's son Larry inspired this character. Fudge was so loved by readers that Blume created Superfudge (1980) and Fudge-a-mania (1990). Blume's grandson Elliot, according to an interview with Blume conducted by Mary Ann Grossman for the St. Paul Pioneer Press (October 4, 2002), encouraged the author to bring Fudge up to the twenty-first century. In 2003, Double Fudge was published.
As of 2006, Blume lived in New York City, in Key West, Florida, and on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, with her husband George Cooper, a law professor and also a writer.
At the beginning of Forever …, the protagonist, Katherine, and her best friend Erica, (both seniors in high school) attend a New Year's Eve party. The party is given by Erica's cousin Sybil, who is described as having a poor self-image because she is overweight and tends to be sexually promiscuous in order to feel loved. At the party, Katherine meets Michael, a friend of Sybil. The next day, Michael asks Katherine to go for a drive with him. Afterward, he kisses Katherine before saying good-bye and tells Katherine that she is delicious.
Katherine is at home, telling her mother that she has met a nice boy and that she has a date with him that weekend. Katherine describes her mother, whose name is Diana and who works in the children's room at the local library, as thin and tall and not necessarily athletic. Jamie, Katherine's younger sister, is also introduced. Jamie is in the seventh grade and is artistic, unlike Katherine. Jamie and Katherine, despite their age difference, appear to be friends. They respect one another's talents and are supportive of one another. Jamie volunteers, for example, to embroider a design on Katherine's jeans to wear on her first official date with Michael.
Katherine then talks about Tommy Aronson, the boy whom she dated before she met Michael. Her relationship with Tommy was not good. Tommy dated Katherine, she finally discovered, only to have sex with her. When Katherine made it clear that she did not want to have sex with him, Tommy dropped her for another girl, presumably one who would. Unlike Tommy, Michael makes Katherine feel good about herself. He is attentive and caring.
Katherine invites Michael to come back to her house after their date. She takes him to a private room downstairs that has a lock on the door. They start to kiss, but Katherine stops Michael when he goes a little too fast for her. He asks if she is a virgin, to which Katherine answers yes.
Katherine introduces her father, who is a pharmacist. Later, Katherine invites Michael and Erica over to the house. Michael brings Artie with him. Erica and Artie play backgammon in the kitchen, while Michael and Katherine retreat to the downstairs room. They kiss, but Katherine stops Michael again because he is moving too fast for her. Michael and Artie leave, and Erica spends the night. Erica says that Artie seems shy because he did not even try to kiss her. Then Katherine and Erica discuss their feelings about sex. Erica says that girls do not have to be in love to have sex, but Katherine disagrees.
Jamie plans a big dinner with her grandmother, who has come to stay with the girls while their parents are away. Michael picks Katherine up one night at the hospital where she works as a candy striper. Michael invites Katherine to his school's play. Artie has the lead role, so Katherine then invites Erica to come along. When they get home, Katherine introduces Michael to her grandmother, who later warns Katherine to be careful about pregnancy and venereal diseases. Katherine is a little embarrassed and disturbed that her grandmother assumes that Katherine will have sex.
After Michael leaves, Jamie tells Katherine that she wishes Michael had a younger brother. When Jamie asks if Katherine and Michael are having sex, Katherine becomes upset. Jamie tells her that Katherine's generation is too hung up on sex.
By chapter six, Erica is frustrated in her relationship with Artie. He still has not kissed her, so she tells Katherine that she plans on doing something about it. The two girls then go to see Artie in the school play. Sybil and Elizabeth are also in it. When Katherine sees Elizabeth, her jealousy begins to swell. By the time the play is over and everyone has gone to Elizabeth's house for a party, Katherine has trouble controlling her emotions. Everyone congratulates Artie for his wonderful performance, but this is not a sufficient distraction for Katherine, who can barely talk because she is so emotional.
Michael and Katherine leave the party early and end up at Katherine's house. They make out for awhile, but once again Katherine stops Michael when she thinks he is going too far. She tells him that she might be physically ready to have sex, but she also wants to be mentally ready, too. Later, when she is alone, she realizes that the thought of sex frightens her.
In the next chapter, Michael invites Katherine to go skiing with him and his sister and her husband in Vermont. Katherine would be away from home for three nights, so her parents want to think it over before giving Katherine an answer. As Katherine waits for her parents' answer, she talks to Erica about the tension she is feeling. Erica informs Katherine that Artie has told her that he might be gay. He is in the process of trying to find out what his sexual feelings are. Erica has told Artie that she will help him find out. Later, Katherine finds out that her parents have agreed to let her go.
The next two chapters are set in Vermont. Katherine and Michael have adjoining bedrooms and before Katherine falls asleep, Michael comes in and asks if he can be with her. Katherine tells him not to get too physically aroused because she does not want to have sex. That is when Michael tells Katherine that he loves her. Katherine is not ready to say this back to Michael, although she feels she loves him. They fall asleep in one another's arms.
Before they go skiing the next day, Sharon and Katherine have a talk. Sharon tells Katherine that Michael is a good boy and is also very vulnerable; and she does not want to see Michael get hurt. This comment concerns Katherine, who wonders if Sharon thinks that Katherine is just using Michael.
Michael teaches Katherine to ski. They are on the slopes all day. At night, they return to the apartment to find Ike and Sharon smoking marijuana. Both Katherine and Michael have tried it before, but they pass on the invitation to join the other two. Instead, they go to bed. Michael climbs into bed with Katherine, and they make out. This time, they both reach climaxes without having full intercourse. Before going to sleep, Katherine tells Michael that she loves him.
When Katherine returns from Vermont, her father confesses that he is concerned that Katherine is getting too involved with Michael. He does not want to see her tied down to one boy, he tells her. The next morning, Katherine's mother explains that Katherine's father just wants to see her spending time with more people. On the way to school, Katherine asks if her mom was a virgin when she married Katherine's father. Her mother says she was until they were engaged. Katherine's father was not a virgin, however. But Katherine's mother explains that there were different standards for girls and boys back then. It was all right for boys to have sex. But girls were supposed to be virgins when they got married. Katherine's mom then warns Katherine that having sex with someone can make her more vulnerable. She also tells Katherine that she is not going to tell Katherine what to do. It is up to her, but Katherine should make sure that she is ready for it.
Later, Erica says she cannot believe that Katherine is still a virgin, although Katherine has not admitted whether she is. Erica says that she can tell, however, that Katherine has not yet had sex. Katherine then tells Erica that what she does with Michael is private, and she does not want to share it. She also confesses to Erica that she really loves Michael. Erica tells Katherine that she believes that Artie is not gay but rather impotent.
On a double date, Erica announces that Artie has been accepted at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, a school that Artie would love to attend. Artie's father, however, refuses to let him go. When Erica tells Artie that he should stand up to his father, Michael tells Erica to leave it alone. Later, Katherine tells Michael that she has never seen Artie so depressed.
Michael goes away for ten days with his sister. It is a ski trip, one that will help Michael get his instructor's certificate. Katherine stays busy, but she misses him a lot. Katherine's father again makes the statement that he wishes Katherine would see someone in addition to Michael. Katherine's mother makes the point that Katherine will have to learn to live without Michael when she goes away to college in the fall. This comment makes Katherine go to her counselor to try to apply to the University of Vermont. She wants to go to school wherever Michael goes. When Katherine is told that she will need her parents' permission to apply, Katherine assumes they will support her change of mind. But they do not.
Michael comes back from the ski trip early and surprises Katherine. They go on a date, and Katherine cracks a joke about venereal disease (VD), but Michael does not find it funny. Then he confesses that he once had what he refers to as the clap.
Katherine and Michael end up at Michael's sister's apartment. Sharon and Ike are out of town. Katherine and Michael spend time in bed together, but it is not until the next night that Katherine finally loses her virginity. The experience is a little disappointing, and Katherine wonders why everyone makes such a big deal about it.
Katherine's old boyfriend, Tommy Aronson, calls at the beginning of chapter 13. He is back in town and wants to see Katherine. She sees right through him, knowing that all he wants is sex. She turns him down for that reason and the fact that she has no interest in him any more.
Katherine receives a package from her grandmother. It is filled with Planned Parenthood pamphlets. Katherine calls her grandmother and sets a date with her. Katherine then telephones Planned Parenthood and makes an appointment with them. In chapter fifteen, one of the clinicians at Planned Parenthood asks Katherine some personal questions about her relationship with Michael. They then discuss various birth control devices. Katherine is also tested for gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease. By the end of the chapter, Katherine has chosen a birth control pill to use.
Both Michael and Katherine come down with the flu. They must stay apart from one another for several days. When Michael takes Katherine out on her birthday, he gives her a present. It is a necklace that holds a small silver disk with "Katherine" engraved on one side and "Forever … Michael" on the other. Katherine tells Michael that she has a surprise for him, too. She tells him that she is now on the pill.
Katherine and Michael go to Michael's house. His parents will be gone until midnight. They make love in Michael's bed and afterward take their first shower together.
Katherine mentions that her sister, Jamie, is going back to a summer camp in New Hampshire, but Katherine does not yet know what she will be doing for the summer. She has been job hunting without success. Michael is looking for a summer job also.
Erica, in the meantime, has found a position on the local newspaper. Erica tells Katherine that her cousin Sybil is pregnant. Sybil has been able to hide her pregnancy from everyone because she wore large-sized dresses, as she always had. Sybil is planning on giving the baby up for adoption.
Because Katherine's parents will not give her permission to apply to another college just to be with Michael, Katherine and Michael develop a plan of their own. Michael will take off one semester and work as a ski instructor in Colorado.
Katherine's father announces that he has talked to Sam Fox, the director of the summer camp that Jamie will attend. Sam tells Katherine's father that he needs a tennis counselor, since one of the counselors he had hired is sick. Katherine's father tells Sam that he is sure Katherine would love to work there. Katherine balks at the idea. It would mean being away from Michael. Katherine's father insists that Katherine take the job. She has no choice. Katherine is very upset.
Erica invites Katherine, Michael, and Artie to her house, while her parents are away. They celebrate Michael's birthday, but this depresses Artie, who sees no future for himself. Later, the couples go their separate ways to different rooms. Katherine tells Michael that she has to go to New Hampshire for the summer. Michael announces then that he accepted a summer job in North Carolina. Michael's parents wanted him to take it. Katherine and Michael resolve not to let the separation change their relationship as their parents are hoping it will.
After the boys leave, Katherine finds Erica crying in her bedroom. She has told Artie that she cannot take it anymore. She cannot help him any further. Artie then locked himself in her bathroom and threatened to kill himself. Artie later calms down, as if he were acting out a role, and tells Erica that he does not blame her.
At the beginning of chapter 19, Artie has tried to hang himself from the shower curtain rod in his bathroom. The attempt failed because the rod broke. He has been taken to a private psychiatric hospital. Both Michael and Erica feel guilty about not having done more for Artie. The chapter ends with Michael and Erica going out with Katherine to a bar and getting very drunk.
Sybil has her baby. Erica and Katherine visit Sybil in the hospital. Sybil will miss her graduation but has decided to lose weight and to accept Smith's offer for college. She is also going to be fitted for an intrauterine device (IUD), a birth control device. She poses a strong front in giving away her baby, but both Erica and Katherine are near tears.
Katherine attends Michael's graduation. It is sad for her when both Sybil's and Artie's names are called and no one appears on stage. Katherine's graduation is held next. Shortly afterward, Erica invites Katherine and Michael to her parents' summer home on Long Beach Island. Four days after that, Katherine and her sister, Jamie, are at the New Hampshire camp.
Chapter twenty-two consists of a series of letters. Katherine and Michael exchange news and details of their lives and write about how much they are missing each other. In a letter to her parents, Katherine first mentions Theo, the head of the tennis program at the camp. She also mentions Theo to Erica. Katherine writes a quick note to Artie who is still hospitalized.
In chapter twenty-three, Katherine narrates a typical day at camp. Readers can tell that she is becoming somewhat attracted to Theo. She describes in detail what he looks like. The two of them play tennis together and go swimming. One night, Theo asks Katherine about the necklace she wears, the one that Michael gave her for her birthday. When he sees the word "Forever" engraved on one side, Theo tells her that he thinks forever is a very long time for someone as young as Katherine. Later, Katherine dreams she is making love to Theo and feels ashamed. One night, Theo asks her to slow dance with him. After the dance, Katherine runs away and cries because she does not understand her mixed emotions. When Katherine's parents come to visit, she shows them a box stuffed with letters from Michael. She confronts them by saying she bets they thought the separation would stop them from communicating. The box of letters is proof that the separation has not affected their relationship, Katherine half-heartedly believes.
Chapter twenty-four brings the news that Katherine's grandfather has died. Katherine's parents believe that it is best that neither Katherine nor Jamie come home. Grandpa did not want a funeral, and their grandmother will appreciate the solitude for a couple weeks.
Theo comforts Katherine when she tells him why she is crying. When Theo walks Katherine back to her cabin, he kisses her on the forehead. Katherine then pulls him into her and kisses him on the mouth. However, Theo gently untangles himself from her arms and tells her that he does not want her like this, implying in her time of weakness. Katherine stops writing to Michael, as she needs time to think. Finally, she writes him a letter, trying to be as honest as she can. She tells Michael that she has met someone else, but she is not sure what her emotions are. She cannot finish the letter and decides that she could never send it.
Michael surprises Katherine with a visit at the camp. He catches Katherine holding hands with Theo. Later, when Katherine and Michael are in Michael's motel room, Michael wants to make love, but Katherine cannot do it. Michael guesses that there is some other guy in her life. Michael refers to the necklace and the word "Forever." He wants to know what that means now. Michael decides that their relationship can never be the same again, although Katherine holds onto the hope that it can. Michael tells Katherine that he is not about to share her with anyone. He says she cannot have it both ways. Katherine asks if that means it is all over between them. Michael says that he thinks it is. Katherine takes off the necklace and gives it to Michael. But Michael drops it into Katherine's purse.
Katherine returns home. She accidentally bumps into Michael while she is out with Erica. Michael tells them that Artie is home. He also tells Katherine that he was offered the ski instructor position at Vail, which means he could be in Colorado during the winter. But he is not certain he will take it. He says that it all depends on, and then he does not finish his sentence. Katherine tries to explain to Michael that she will always love him. And they part.
The book ends with Katherine at home. She has just been told that Theo has called.
Tommy is the boy whom Katherine, the protagonist, liked before she met Michael. Katherine had a crush on Tommy and thought she loved him. But she soon discovered that all Tommy wanted her for was to have sex. When she turned him down, he dropped her and found another girl. Tommy is one year older than Katherine and goes away to college in Katherine's senior year. When he comes back to town, he calls Katherine up and asks her to go out with him. By this time, Katherine is over him and turns him down. Tommy represents the negative side of boys who attach no emotions to a sexual relationship. He was barely interested in friendship. All he wanted to experience was the pleasure of having sex.
Diana is Katherine's mother. She is a librarian, specializing in children's literature. Diana is very supportive of her daughter and fairly open minded for the timeframe of this novel. She speaks rather candidly to Katherine about boyfriends and relationships. She allows Katherine to go on trips with Michael. She is not as candid as her mother, Hallie Gross, however. Diana stops short of helping Katherine to find a method of birth control. Rather, Diana talks in generalities and hopes that Katherine is smart enough to take care of the details. Although Diana approves of Katherine's relationship with Michael, she supports her husband when it comes time to separate Katherine from Michael during the summer after high school graduation. The separation, the parents hope, will cool the bond between Katherine and Michael, which it does. Diana is aware that Katherine has much more time ahead of her to become serious with some boy. She wants her daughter to explore more possibilities before making a final decision. Since Diana is also a professional woman, she does not want her daughter to be so focused on a love relationship that she forgets, or loses interesting in, her studies and other activities. In other words, Diana wants her daughter to have more options. Diana is a woman of the world. But when it comes to her daughter, she clamps down a bit, falling back into the influences of the 1950s when silence about certain topics seemed the best practice.
Jamie is Katherine's younger sister. She is everything that Katherine is not. Jamie is very artistic. She creates designs that her family then turns into rugs. She sews artistic patterns on clothes; she paints; and she plays the piano. She is not athletic like her sister, Katherine, but Jamie wishes that she were. She is supportive of her sister and cooks a delicious meal for Katherine and Michael to celebrate their relationship. She has a slight crush on Michael but not in a competitive manner. She merely likes him and wishes he had a younger brother. She is much the admiring younger sister. The author uses Jamie and a few generic younger teenagers to help reflect on Katherine's slightly more mature perceptions of life and love.
Katherine is the protagonist of this story. It is through her perception that the story is told. She is a senior in high school and a virgin when the story opens. She is very rational and must think things through before she acts on them. This habit has protected her from having sex with Tommy Aronson, who was merely interested in her body. Katherine is attracted to Michael as soon as she meets him, although she does not admit it to herself immediately. As the relationship develops, she thinks she wants to have sex with him, but she is a bit frightened by the situation. She keeps pulling back, wanting to sort through her feelings. Eventually she gives in and feels herself falling in love with Michael. She wants to be with him all the time.
Katherine begins to rearrange her life so that she can spend more time with Michael, and she becomes angered when her parents try to thwart her efforts. Her parents insist that she take a job at a summer camp, away from Michael, the summer after her graduation from high school. While at the camp, she finds that she is attracted to another boy, Theo. She does not quite understand why. She has trouble explaining her lack of loyalty to Michael, even to herself.
Katherine is often confused by her mixed emotions. Even by the end of the book, Katherine does not really come to any clear conclusions. She does sense, however, that she is ready to travel down some roads (such as losing her virginity) but not others (such as committing herself to Michael forever). She is portrayed, in some ways, as a typical teenager, who fights her parents' attempts to completely dominate and define her. This difficult struggle must take place in order for a teen to mature into an adult. Hopefully, as this process is portrayed through Katherine, the struggle does not damage the teen's relationship with the parents.
Although it is not explained, apparently by the end of the story Katherine realizes that the love she feels for Michael was developed through the experience of having lost her virginity with him. Though that experience is memorable, it does not warrant her making a permanent commitment to Michael. Theo makes her realize that she has many other emotions to explore and many more experiences to have before she is ready to settle down with one person. Katherine's parents have led her in the right direction, but she must choose for herself whether to walk down that path.
Katherine's father is a pharmacist and owns two drug stores. He is an athlete, like Katherine, and is also good at tennis as Katherine is. He is a little more protective of Katherine than Katherine's mother and usually argues against Katherine's going away with Michael. He insists that Katherine take the job as tennis instructor at the summer camp. He is more rigid or maybe old fashioned in his ways. And the fact that his first name is never offered, could reflect some of the older generation's attitudes about the roles for men and women. Katherine's mother (whose first name is provided), on the other hand, is a little more progressive, but not by much.
It is Sybil's New Year's Eve party that opens this story. Sybil is Erica's cousin. She is sexually promiscuous, behavior the narrator links to low self-esteem. Her self-image is also suggested in the fact that she is overweight. She equates sexual attention with love. In the end, Sybil gets pregnant. She decides to give her baby up for adoption, to lose weight, and to be fitted with an IUD, a birth control device. She also accepts the offer to attend Smith College. In the story, Sybil dramatizes all the wrong reasons to experiment with sex, and she suffers the consequences of not protecting herself. By the end of the story, however, Sybil attempts to turn her life around.
Grandpa Gross is Hallie's husband and Kather-ine's maternal grandfather. As with Katherine's father, Grandpa's first name is never provided. Like Hallie, his wife, Grandpa is a lawyer. He has suffered a stroke, however, and no longer works. Toward the end of the story, Grandpa dies. Since he has told his family that he does not want a funeral, Katherine's mother decides that it is not necessary for Katherine and Jamie to come home from summer camp. Katherine must mourn the loss while still at camp, which draws her to Theo.
Hallie Gross, Katherine's maternal grandmother, is a politically active lawyer who once ran for the U.S. Congress. She is involved with Planned Parenthood and suggests that Katherine go to the clinic for some kind of birth control. Almost seventy years old, she comes over in January to baby sit Katherine and Jamie when Katherine's parents take a winter vacation. Hallie is a progressive woman for her generation. She is more liberal than her own daughter, Katherine's mother. Whereas Katherine's mother only hints at sexuality in her conversations with Katherine, Hallie is blunt and forthcoming. Because of Hallie, Katherine starts taking an oral contraceptive pill.
Elizabeth is Michael's friend. She is his date in the opening scene at Sybil's New Year's Eve party. Katherine sees Michael kiss Elizabeth, and later Katherine is jealous of her. Katherine holds a party after the school play in which Artie is a star. Elizabeth's role in the novel seems mostly to stimulate Katherine's insecurity.
Ike is married to Michael's sister. Katherine's mother is impressed by the fact that Ike is a resident in internal medicine, which makes her feel more secure about Katherine's safety when Katherine goes to Vermont on the ski trip. Although he is a doctor, Ike smokes marijuana, which surprises Katherine. Her response suggests that Katherine is more mature or more rational than Ike. Katherine thinks before she acts. The suggestion is Ike has not really thought through the consequences of using an illegal drug.
Artie is Michael's friend. He is somewhat shy, but when he is up on stage he becomes self-confident. Acting comes naturally to him, and he wants to pursue an acting career. However, his fa ther is against it. Artie is not sure of his sexual ori entation. He hides a lot of his feelings behind games that he likes to play when he is in a social setting. Erica tries to help him and discovers that Artie is not gay but rather impotent. Erica finally gives up on Artie, and in the end, Artie has a mental break down and tries to commit suicide, which makes Erica and Michael feel guilty, as if they did not help Artie enough. After Artie's attempt, he spends some time in a psychiatric ward and misses his graduation. At the end of the story, Artie is back home.
Sharon is Michael's married sister. Katherine meets her on the ski trip to Vermont. Sharon is an anthropologist who works for some museum. She represents (for the 1970s) an independent woman with a career and no children. Sharon, at one point in the story, asks Katherine to be careful with Michael because he is vulnerable emotionally. While this shows Sharon's concern for her brother, it also flips the table on the focus of sexual roles. Typically, concern is expressed for girls because they can become pregnant. Boys, too, this story points out, have emotions and can be hurt, which is what happens when Katherine breaks up with Michael. These are the consequences of early sexual experiences, the story appears to say.
Erica is Katherine's best friend. She is said to be a good analyzer of people and she thinks Katherine is insecure. That is why Katherine tends to be sarcastic when someone exposes her feelings, according to Erica. Erica becomes involved with Artie. Erica wants to have sex with Artie, but he shies away from her. Erica feels responsible for Artie's breakdown after she tells him that she no longer wants to have anything to do with him. She feels guilty when Artie attempts suicide. She believes it is all her fault.
In many ways, Erica represents the opposite of Katherine. However, toward the end of the story, the two girls appear to be fairly similar. Erica is lucky in school, having been accepted at Radcliffe, although Katherine suspects it is not for Erica's grades, which are not as good as Katherine's. But Katherine is more successful in relationships, and apparently Erica is a little jealous of that.
Juliette Small, Erica's mother, is a famous film critic, and it is through her fame that Erica hopes to be accepted at Radcliffe.
Theo is the head of the tennis program at the New Hampshire camp where Katherine and Jamie spend the summer after Katherine's graduation from high school. Theo is attracted to Katherine, and she to him. Theo is twenty-one and a senior at Northwestern University, and it could be his maturity that is partially responsible for Katherine's attraction to him. He teases Katherine about the necklace that Katherine wears, the one that says "forever" on it. He counsels Katherine that she is too young to commit herself to anyone. Eventually, it is because of her feelings for Theo that Katherine and Michael break up. Theo represents other experiences Katherine will have, experiences she would miss out on if she continued her exclusive relationship with Michael.
Michael is an old friend of Sybil. He returns to Sybil's house the morning after a party just to have a chance to get to know Katherine. A relationship grows between him and Katherine, and he eventually persuades her into having sex with him. Michael is gentle and caring in his relationship with Katherine. Although he prompts Katherine to have sex with him, he does so out of true affection. The relationship appears to be building into something special until Michael takes a job in North Carolina, moving away from Katherine the summer after she graduates from high school. He is caught off guard when Katherine stops writing to him; he arrives at the summer camp where Katherine is working and senses that she might be interested in someone else. Michael is hurt when he discovers that Katherine is not committed to him. He also demonstrates that once two people have sex, they cannot go back to just being friends. Michael cannot handle the idea of Katherine being with any other boy. He tells her that she cannot have it both ways.
The major subject of this novel is teenage sexuality. The sexual language of the novel is graphic. The sexual scenes are slightly vague about details, but they are nonetheless realistic. The sexual act is described in open terms. The book was written in the midst of the so-called sexual revolution of the 1970s, when young people were attempting to throw off limiting social rules that, on the surface, demanded that girls remain virgins, while they gave boys permission to act out sexually. As Katherine's mother suggests, there were two types of girls: those who remained virgins were the ones the boys wanted to marry; those who had sex were dated for fun but did not get married. That was the dichotomy that dominated Katherine's mother's time, but it was not necessarily the reality, and the sexual revolution of the 1970s generation brought the truth closer to the surface, as does Blume's book.
There are different attitudes toward sex in this novel. Sybil, who is described as having a poor self-concept, uses sexuality to feel loved and to gain affection from boys. She does so unwisely, and this, Blume points out, is not a good idea no matter what generation a person belongs to. Sybil does not think highly enough of herself to protect herself, and she ends up pregnant.
Erica, a friend of the protagonist, does not believe that people have to be emotionally invested in order to have sex. Sex, to Erica, is a dramatic experience. Erica is eager to gain the knowledge that a sexual encounter affords. Her relationship with Artie, however, is too challenging for her. The topic of male impotence is discussed in connection to Artie. Erica mistakenly believes that if she can attract him, she can cure him. Artie's problem goes too deep, though, and Erica's attempts only make the matter worse. She does not understand the psychological implications in Artie's inability to have an erection.
Michael is more experienced than Erica or Katherine, but not by much. He had one other sexual partner before he met Katherine. Michael did not even know the girl's last name, so apparently he felt no particular commitment to his first partner. Michael wanted to have a sexual encounter, and the unnamed girl was available. But she was a bit too available as the story implies, and Michael receives a sexually transmitted disease in the process.
Katherine is a virgin like Erica. It is through Katherine's relationship with Michael that the story develops. Katherine is rational about engaging in sexual intercourse. At one point, she is so rational that she understands that despite the fact that her body physically longs for the sexual act, her mind is not ready. Katherine also wants the experience to amount to more than just physical satisfaction. She wants to feel something exceptional on an emotional level, too. She wants her first sexual experience to be with a special person. She could have had a sexual (or physical) experience with her previous boyfriend, Tommy Aronson, but she knew that he did not really care about her as a person.
Blume carefully orchestrates the pressures that Katherine feels as a teenage girl moving toward sexual intercourse. Little by little, Katherine weighs the consequences of each of her steps. Blume discusses not only the fear that teenage sexuality can cause but also the joy and pleasure. The author even uses humor by having Michael introduce his penis to Katherine by giving it a name.
Birth Control and Venereal Disease
Blume's novel offers a reminder that teenagers need to protect themselves when they are having sex. Sybil, who is referred to as a genius at the beginning of the book and is smart enough to be accepted by prestigious Smith College, finds herself pregnant. Michael, who was engaged in unprotected sex with a girl he hardly knew, contracts a venereal disease. In the 1970s, when this book was written, there was not as much open discussion of birth control and venereal diseases as there is in the early 2000s. The birth control pill became available in the 1960s. Various IUDs had been used for awhile, but some, such as the Dalkon shield, which was pulled off the market due to its causing serious side effects, caused widespread concern. The most common form of birth control was the prophylactic, or condom.
With the advent of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, open discussion of venereal disease and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) led to widespread public awareness. Although in the 1970s teens knew there were certain diseases that one could catch, the fear of those diseases usually remained in the background. The first fear was becoming pregnant. The inclusion of the character Hallie Gross (the protagonist's grandmother), therefore, was a rather bold choice on Blume's part. The author's decision to send Katherine to Planned Parenthood to learn about birth control and venereal disease shows Blume to have been well ahead of her time. By focusing on both the emotional factors that surround the sexual act and by providing factual information about taking precautions, Blume presents a balanced story. She also provides lessons about sexuality without appearing to preach.
Teenage sexual development and activity cause intense emotional reactions. Blume is explicit about the sex act, and she also discusses the emotions that are aroused in intimate relationships.
The protagonist's emotional battles as she confronts her fears of having sex are juxtaposed with her desires for sexual gratification. Added to this conflict are Katherine's concerns about getting pregnant and about contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Moreover, Katherine is confused by the various messages she receives from the adults around her. Katherine becomes annoyed when her grandmother assumes that she is having sex, when Katherine is not. She is likewise annoyed when she is enjoying sex with Michael, yet at the same time, she must hide her feelings from her parents. There are many pressures on young people, Blume is saying through her story, that parents (and teens alike) may not fully realize.
Topics For Further Study
- Pretend that you have been asked to go before your board of education to argue for censoring this book or for including it in the school library. Prepare a statement, using examples for the book itself and from other research you conduct on censorship. Read your statement to your class.
- Choose a partner and write a dialogue between two of the characters, covering an area of the story that was not fully detailed. For instance, you could write a dialogue between Katherine and Erica that takes place after Katherine returns home and has broken up with Michael. What would the two friends say? Or you could write a dialogue between Michael and Artie, after Artie has been released from the hospital. Choose a portion of the book you are comfortable with. Then act out your dialogue (with a classmate) in front of your class.
- Jamie is portrayed as an artist who creates designs that her arents then make into rugs. Imagine that a play based on Forever … is going to be staged at your school. You are in charge of set designs, and you need to reproduce the scene in Katherine's house in which Katherine introduces Michael to her family. Create a rug design that the family is working on. Make it as imaginative as you can to reflect Jamie's creativity.
- Gather as much information as you can about teenage pregnancies in your city or state. Compare them to national averages. Then go back a couple of decades. Has the rate decreased or increased since then? What are the experts saying has made a difference? Present your findings to your class.
Erica and Artie have different experiences they must try to figure out. Artie feels impotent in various ways. He does not do well academically in school but is a master on stage. However, his father does not appreciate acting as a profession and insists that his son conform to the father's wishes. The parental domination makes Artie feel powerless. He is caught in a no-win situation. This impotence is carried through to his sexuality. Erica believes that her caring and loving caresses as well as her own physical attractiveness are enough to cure Artie's problem. When she discovers they are not, she takes it personally and feels that Artie is draining her emotionally. One thing leads to another, and the emotional storm intensifies. Artie does not understand his impotence any more than Erica does; eventually he tries to kill himself. Erica is then left with a sense of guilt because she believes she has failed Artie. All these emotions are powerful enough to completely devastate a vulnerable teenager. Through this aspect of her story, Blume points out that sexuality is not as simple as some people might believe. Emotional reactions are part of sexuality and are challenging to handle.
Meanwhile, Katherine is thrown into conflict with her parents who force her to take a leave of absence from Michael. Sexual intimacy has made their relationship intense. It is very difficult for Katherine to imagine being without Michael. Yet not too long after the separation, she finds that she enjoys the attention that Theo gives her. She does not understand how this could be possible. How can she love two boys at the same time, she wonders.
The title of Blume's novel points ironically to the emotional fluctuation which the protagonist experiences. Through Theo's words, the author speaks her thematic phrase: "forever" is an inappropriately permanent concept for teenagers. The word implies too much; a "forever" commitment is beyond most young people's scope. Yet when many teenagers engage in sex, they assume the intensity of their emotions means they will always feel this way toward the present partner. They are disillusioned or confused when such intense emotions subside and others take their place. Sexual relationships are not as simple as inexperienced teens may assume.
In romance novels the main plot concerns falling in love and courtship. There are challenges along the way for the couple, but these are generally overcome. Some secondary characters are not quite as lucky as the two main characters, which provides other views of courtship and distinguishes the main couple's experience from the experiences of others. The romance novel often ends on a happy note. In this case, Blume uses the romance novel as a venue for examining what is different when teenagers become sexually active, so the problems that arise here are connected to the characters' ages, inexperience, and parental strictures or absence. Blume's novel ends with the female protagonist soon to be off to school and onto new adventures. Katherine has made it through her first, quite temporary sexual relationship, not unaffected, but mostly unscathed.
The romance novels of Jane Austen end in appropriate coupling and marriages in which each character gets a suitable mate: good protagonists win equally good mates; self-interested or materialistic characters end up with mates equally limited in virtue. But in Blume's handling, the point is, at least in part, that for teenagers sexual relationships are temporary and their adult lives lie ahead of them, years of experiencing relationships before they enter marriage.
Although this novel tells a story, its purpose is to educate. The tone is never preachy, but lessons are presented about sexual initiation, birth control methods and how to obtain them, sexually transmitted diseases, and the emotional impact of being sexually active. Through the experiences of the main characters, sensitive topics such as impotence, pregnancy, and the fear that can sometimes precede the sexual act are all presented. Having read the novel, some people may make different decisions regarding sexual choices. Readers never feel, however, that the author is pointing a finger or shaking her head in disapproval. Blume treats her characters sympathetically and without judgment. She allows her readers to witness how a few teenagers deal with their introduction to sexual relationships. She explores the challenges they have to face and the decisions that they make. Blume uses the storyline to present information for young readers who may have questions they hesitate to ask.
Diction is word choice, and Blume's language employes the correct term for subjects that may elsewhere be described euphemistically. For example, Blume refers to the male sexual organ as a penis rather than using a slang term. When the two main characters have sex, she describes the scene explicitly. She describes what happens both physically and emotionally. She is equally candid about Artie's impotence and his attempted suicide. She never backs away from a topic that other authors might have avoided, fearing that their audience (or their audience's parents) might not understand or might object. She does not condone drugs, but she knows that drugs are often a part of the teenage social scene. She even mentions that her protagonist, Katherine, hears her parents engaging in sexual intercourse, hears her mother, in particular, making funny noises while doing so. Blume's frankness is both the draw for many readers and a reason why others have objected to the novel. Blume's frank treatment of the subject set the book apart from others of its time. The book was controversial, yet it became a classic.
Blume's Forever … was not the author's first novel to be banned. Her Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret (1970) was banned for its discussion of bras and budding breasts. Over the years as an author who was censored, Blume became involved politically, promoting freedom of the press. The impulse to censor and the resistance to censorship is not new. Indeed, as early as 1660, Sir William Avenant in Britain censored seven of Shakespeare's plays because he considered them too bawdy, or vulgar. Hitler burned books that were perceived to threaten or contradict ideas promoted by the Third Reich. In the United States, many books have been banned that were later widely accepted as classics: Winesburg, Ohio (1919) by Sherwood Anderson; Catcher in the Rye (1951) by J. D. Salinger; Portnoy's Complaint (1969) by Philip Roth; and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970) by Maya Angelou.
The American Library Association celebrates the reading of banned books each year during the month of September. This program comes with an endorsement from the U.S. Library of Congress. The association points out that what one era condemns may be applauded in a subsequent period, and it promotes the concept that everyone should have the right to choose what they read. The matter is complicated, however, when the publications fall in the category of pornography and obscenity, and some works have had their content evaluated in a court of law to determine what, if any, cultural benefit the work serves. Such an incident occurred regarding D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, which was published privately in 1928, published in an expurgated version in London in 1932, and did not appear in a full text version until 1960.
Compare & Contrast
- 1970s: Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) virus (HIV-1) is not yet recognized by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
2000s: Over 40 million people in the world are living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and AIDS. By 2005, over 25 million have died from AIDS.
- 1970s: Approximately 60 out of every 1000 unmarried teenage females give birth.
2000s: By 2000, these numbers have dropped. Now, fewer than 50 out of every 1000 unmarried teenage females give birth.
- 1970s: The rate of suicide among teenagers is 5.9 per 100,000.
2000s: Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young adults at a rate of 7.9 per 100,000.
- 1970s: According to the American Diabetes Association, 5 percent of American adolescents are considered obese (are 25 percent over their correct body weight).
2000s: According to the American Diabetes Association, adolescent obesity approaches 20 percent of the U.S. teenage population.
As of the early 2000s, the Planned Parenthood Federation operated about nine hundred facilities across the United States. People at the clinics provide information concerning sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and birth control measures, and physicians in these centers perform abortions, vasectomies, and breast and cervical exams, to name a few of their services.
Planned Parenthood began in 1916 in Brooklyn, New York, as the National Birth Control League. Margaret Sanger (1883–1966), her sister, Ethel Byrne, and Fania Mindell were in charge of the small office where they handed out information about birth control to the poor people who lived in that community. All three women were arrested for breaking the Comstock Law of 1873, which prohibited the dissemination of birth control information.
In 1922, Sanger formed the American Birth Control League. In 1936, Sanger and her group won a victory when a U.S. court of appeals judge made it legal to ship contraceptives by mail in the United States and ordered liberalization of the Comstock Law. In 1952, the International Planned Parenthood Federation was founded, which as of 2006 included clinics in India, Hong Kong, Singapore, and various European countries.
Controversy has surrounded Planned Parenthood. The services that are provided, especially abortions, go against the tenets of some religions. But this is not the only point of contention. The founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, was criticized for supporting eugenics—a movement that professed the benefits of social intervention in human evolution. Sanger has been criticized for offering birth control methods to the poor to reduce their population, while encouraging the rich and elite to have more babies.
Judy Blume's novel Forever … has not received much literary attention over the years. But this book has drawn considerable social criticism, and as a result, it is often banned. The frank discussion of sex in this novel has made it controversial. Jennifer Frey, writing for the Los Angeles Times, comments on Blume's wide readership: "Blume's work may be better known for popular appeal than critical acclaim; she's had mixed reviews, but her 23 books have sold more than 75 million copies worldwide." Frey adds: "'Forever' was the book passed around among friends in their teens, each reading it surreptitiously under the bedcovers, sure that its subject matter—a girl's first experience with love and sex—was something parents would label contraband." The reason for Blume's popularity, according to Frey is that "Blume made sense of things in simple, familiar terms. The world she wrote about felt real."
Cautioning regarding the age appropriateness of this novel, a parent in Illinois, according to Rick Margolis, writing for School Library Journal, "believed the book's sexual content, obscene language, and drug references to be inappropriate for middle schoolers." A tenth-grader in favor of Blume's Forever …, according to Beverly Goldberg, writing for American Libraries, declared: "Judy Blume did not write the book to be a dirty piece of smut." The book appears on library shelves or disappears from those shelves, depending on the numbers either in favor or against it and concerns about the age of its readers.
In 2004, Blume was honored for her life's work with the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Affirming that contribution, Jennifer Goldblatt, writing for the New York Times states: "Judy Blume is one of those stealth cultural icons. She has been writing, mainly for children, for more than 30 years. And while the Roths, Rushdies, Updikes and their like grabbed the bulk of bookish headlines, all Ms. Blume did was win the hearts and minds of millions of teenage and pre-teenage readers." Gold-blatt adds that Blume's books "have been widely adored and scrutinized for their candid treatment of coming-of-age themes." Goldblatt mentions that Blume's "ability to capture the complexity of growing up and her willingness to tackle subjects such as menstruation and masturbation have earned her legions of loyal fans." Then Goldblatt quotes Seth Lerer as having made the following evaluation of Blume's influence on children's literature: "Blume's impact has been in making it possible to write for young people of all ages about things that young people are concerned about."
Hart is a published author and former teacher. In the following essay, she examines what Blume's readers seem to cherish most about the author's novels—her frankness.
Judy Blume's novel Forever … has been criticized and banned for its sexual content. Her fans, however, praise the author's frankness. In many ways, both Blume's critics and fans say the same thing. Blume writes with complete honesty. She is forthright about her characters, presenting them realistically as people who make mistakes and talk about subjects that, in 1975 when the book was published, were not frequently discussed in stories written for teens. This essay explores how Judy Blume presents her material. Just what makes Blume's writing so frank? How does the author make her characters feel so real?
There are little things about Blume's writing that make her characters endearing. Take the opening of chapter three, in which the protagonist, Katherine, talks to her mother about having just met a new boy. While she talks, Katherine's mother is cutting her toenails. This is a rather intimate moment. The setting is the bathroom—a small room not often used as a scene for a conversation between two characters in a novel. Katherine's mother is performing a fairly personal act and an unusual one to be included in fiction. Readers get a glimpse behind the characters' public faces, as if readers were eavesdropping on a private conversation. Now that readers have witnessed this scene, they have the feeling that they know the characters better, although they hardly know anything about them at all. It is only after setting up this scene in the bathroom that the narrator begins to fill in details about her mother and other members of her family. But in giving that one personal peek, a view of the mother that no other "public" character would see of her, readers feel as if they belong, as if they are trusted guests, invited in to share a personal story. Readers immediately feel a part of Blume's fictional family.
Soon after the bathroom scene, still in chapter three, Blume adds a specific detail that is a so true to life that readers cannot ignore the author's honesty. The narrator is discussing how people often park in their cars when on dates. They do so, co-incidentally, in Erica's neighborhood. Erica has told Katherine that she knows people park there to have sex because she is always finding used rubbers that have been thrown out of cars and left on the street or on the sidewalks. The mention of the discarded condoms sets the stage for other events, a foreshadowing of sexual activity as well as the discussion of birth control and prevention of venereal disease.
Like the author, Katherine's parents are open-minded. Although they do not come right out and tell Katherine that she can have sex in the house with her boyfriends, they do tell her that it is unsafe to do so in a car, parked on a street. This frankness may be objectionable to some parents who read Blume's books. But this is just the beginning. Blume's openness has just begun to go to work.
Next comes the beginning of the discussion of sex or, rather, the exposure of the young couple (Katherine and Michael) as they fumble their way toward having sex. Michael fumbles physically as Katherine fumbles with her emotions and the thoughts in her head. The descriptions of Michael's first attempts to arouse Katherine sexually are not erotic. This book was not meant to excite readers but rather to inform them. There are references to Michael's hands and to Katherine's clothing, but these are only briefly mentioned, unveiling the characters' intended actions but not glorifying them. Readers who have had sexual experiences can assume what is happening, but inexperienced readers may need to guess. The passages might be titillating for young readers, but they are not erotic. Blume writes statements, such as "I felt his body against mine," "He reached under my sweater," and "He touched me," which suggest that the two characters are engaging in foreplay. The statements are frank, describing the couple's actions, but they are not prurient.
Later, Katherine admits that she is no prude when it comes to sex, and through this admission, Blume suggest her character is realistic. Katherine has doubts about whether she is ready for sex but admits that she would like to experience it. She is honest enough with herself to realize that had circumstances been different, she might have had sex with Michael during one of the first times they made out. "If Artie and Erica hadn't been there I doubt that I'd have stopped Michael from unbuttoning my jeans," Katherine states. In other words, Katherine is not angry at Michael for trying or for encouraging her to give in to him. She understands his physical urges because she feels them, too. Blume has created a protagonist who is real, someone who is challenged by the thoughts of being sexually active. Blume examines the complexities of teen sexual impulse and activity. She is not afraid of creating a character that is complex. That is what makes Katherine seem so authentic. In observing Kather-ine's thoughts, readers know that this story is going to be more than a simple exposition of what some teens do when they are on a date. This story explores many of the issues that surround sexuality; maybe even some topics which readers, for one reason or another, have never encountered before.
Grandma Gross is one step removed from parenting and can, therefore, be a bit more objective than a mother or a father. Grandma Gross senses that Katherine and Michael are getting closer to one another. The logical next step would be for them to have intercourse, and Grandma Gross wants to make sure that Katherine is at least physically prepared. It is through Grandma Gross's promptings that Katherine seeks advice about birth control and protection from venereal diseases. It is also through Grandma Gross that Blume's readers receive this wise advice. The pertinent information, especially back in the 1970s when Forever … was first published, pertained to contraception and venereal disease. Sex education in schools was not as fully developed as it later became after the AIDS epidemic hit in the 1980s. Parents, as a general rule, often had trouble talking about sex, in particular, with their daughters. Most parents want their teenage children to be protected, but they do not want to encourage their children to be sexually active. While teens in the 1970s experienced a sexual revolution, their parents experienced a very different climate when they were themselves teenagers. Discussions of sex were typically evasive and vague, as Blume demonstrates in the dialogues between Katherine and her parents. Grandma Gross, a liberated, free thinker, a woman well ahead of her own times, could be frank, whereas Katherine's mother, whose values were more shaped by the 1950s, could not be.
Blume also presents male impotence. Artie feels impotent in various ways. Whether this is played out through his sexuality is for a professional to determine. But Artie definitely has problems. Given the details Blume provides about Artie's life, readers can assume that at best Artie is confused and troubled. What was Blume trying to say? There is a hint of homosexuality, but that does not seem to be the author's main point. Rather, it appears that the topic has more to do with the relationship between Artie and Erica. Could Blume have wanted to focus on Erica's mistaken notion that she could help Artie? Was Blume trying to state that sexual activity cannot in itself solve problems? Whatever the author's reasons, the character of Artie brings the serious matter of dysfunction to the novel. His impotence, mixed with Erica's failed attempts to help Artie, and Artie's depression and attempted suicide are all very real problems that teenagers sometimes face. In her desire to be honest, Blume might be saying that in the real world, life is not always about fun and physical pleasures. As Blume's fans know, Blume is all about representing what is real.
What Do I Read Next?
- Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, published in 1970, was Blume's first controversial novel. One of the major concerns of the protagonist of this story, a concern commonly shared by teenage girls, pertains to when she is going to fill out her first bra. Before Blume, teenage girls had talked among themselves about this subject, but no one had ever written about it.
- Published a little more than ten years after Blume's Forever …, Maureen Daly's Acts of Love (1987) similarly portrays a young girl in love and the challenges that she must face. The author describes a daughter's first love as similar to experiences the teen's mother had.
- Judith Caseley's novel Kisses (1990) tells the story of a young violinist who finds love where she never suspected she would. This is another romance about a teenager who is looking for love but cannot seem to find it.
- With a little more dramatic tension, Mary Downing Hahn turns a would-be romance into something of a thriller as the protagonist's boyfriend rides his motorcycle carelessly at the climax of this young love story in an attempt to kill himself. The novel is called The Wind Blows Backwards (1993).
Finally, there is Katherine's sexual initiation. For all the passion that is hinted at as Katherine and Michael move toward experiencing sexual intercourse, at the moment when Katherine actually allows Michael to enter her, the passion is nowhere to be found. There is more discussion about Michael's using a condom than there is about the act itself. Katherine and Michael talk about pregnancy and venereal disease and about Katherine's period instead. Then there is more talk about Michael's sexual actions, for which he apologizes, because he has an orgasm before penetration. Michael continues to apologize. Katherine repeatedly tells him that everything is all right. It does not really matter. So what is going on here?
Blume appears committed to not idealizing the first sexual experience. Even at the height of what should be physical pleasure, things can (and do) go wrong. Katherine's and Michael's experience serves as an illustration. The big moment develops in an unanticipated direction. Again, Blume is saying, this is life. This is what really happens. Nothing can be counted on. This is not the movies. This is real; or this is at least as real as a novel can put it.
So the teenagers try once again. In the second attempt, Michael is successful, but Katherine is unimpressed. She tries to comfort Michael who senses Katherine's disappointment. "Everybody says the first time is no good for a virgin. I'm not disappointed," she tells Michael. But she is. Katherine is honest, at least to herself. "I'd wanted it to be perfect," Katherine announces to the readers.
It is as if Blume is saying that life is not perfect. The dreams and fantasies attached to some of the subjects Blume explores in her book are often glossed over with imagined perfection. When adults are not willing or unable to have frank discussions about all the elements of sexuality, those fantasies can grow. Blume does not allow that to happen. She makes a point of telling a story with all its imperfections and disappointments. "I can't help feeling let down," Katherine says. "Everybody makes such a big thing out of actually doing it." Too bad Katherine does not have a book like this one to read. Thanks to Katherine's story, however, and Blume's frank telling of it, maybe other teens will know beforehand that there is a lot to love and life, and not all of it is like what they may have imagined. Life and love, as Michael states, takes practice. It is nice to be reminded of this from time to time. Maybe that is why Blume's fans are so attracted to the author's frankness.
Source: Joyce Hart, Critical Essay on Forever …, in Novels for Students, Thomson Gale, 2007.
Pryor has a B.A. from the University of Michigan and twenty years experience in professional and creative writing with special interest in fiction. In this essay, she examines the influence of the feminist movement on this novel, the many pressures placed upon the teens in Forever …, and how the story would be different if it were told in the early 2000s.
While Forever … could be briefly summarized as the tale of one teenager's first love affair and sexual experience, the story illustrates not just adolescent attitudes and difficulties with sex, but the pressures and problems they face in many other areas as well. The characters deal with these pressures in their own ways, making their own inevitable mistakes, though some mistakes have more serious consequences than others.
The central character, Katherine, is a responsible, cautious achiever, who handles the pressures and desires of being seventeen (later in the story, eighteen) and in love in an almost ideal manner. Her liberated yet responsible behavior could have been scripted by the staff of Planned Parenthood. She refuses to be pressed into sex, she insists on using birth control, and then, after her first sexual encounter, she makes an appointment at Planned Parenthood for a complete gynecological exam and a prescription for the Pill. It is no wonder her behavior is so exemplary; her parents are understanding and communicative; her grandmother is a lawyer who once ran for Congress, works for NOW, and sends Katherine pamphlets on birth control, abortion, and venereal disease. For the feminist movement in the 1970s, Katherine is an idealized vision of how young women (and their families) should handle sex. Two years before this novel was first published, feminist tennis great Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in the much-hyped "Battle of the Sexes"; not surprisingly, the one sport at which Katherine excels is tennis.
Even Blume's symbolism makes the point that Katherine is heir to the feminist movement, an equal partner in any relationship. In the apartment where she loses her virginity, Michael looks in the refrigerator and offers, "How about an apple … or a grapefruit?" Katherine replies, "I'll have an apple." Unlike Eve, Katherine has the power to choose—she is not seduced or coerced in any way.
Fortunately, Blume does not portray Katherine as strident or militant in her feminist attitudes, and the author gives her most of the same insecurities about sex that an average teenage girl experiences. She worries that it will hurt, that she will bleed; at one point, she muses, "Sometimes I want to so much—but other times I'm afraid." After eating the apple she gets from Michael at the apartment, she wraps the core in toilet paper and hides it in her purse, afraid to leave any evidence behind. To further emphasize her representative status, she is even the same age as the average girl having her first sexual encounter in the 1970s.
If Katherine exemplifies the right way for a teenage girl to handle sex, then her friend Sybil represents the opposite, the downside of teens living in a sexually liberated environment. Here, Blume acknowledges that for teens without the maturity to handle it, becoming sexually active too soon is playing with fire. Overweight and insecure, Sybil uses sex to prove her desirability and ends up missing graduation to give birth to a baby girl she must put up for adoption. Ironically, Sybil is described as having "a genius IQ," and is accepted at every Ivy League school to which she applies. Clearly, Sybil is searching for a different kind of acceptance.
Despite the negative aspects of teen sex, Blume treats the subject as a natural and inevitable part of growing up. To emphasize this, she juxtaposes Katherine's sexual awakening with the gradual deterioration and death of her grandfather, the birth of Sybil's baby girl, and her younger sister Jamie getting her first boyfriend. When Kather-ine reaches out to Theo and kisses him after hearing of her grandfather's death, Theo links the two events with his own amateur psychology: "it's a very common reaction … somebody dies … you need to prove you're alive … and what better way is there?"
No sexual issue facing teens is left unexplored by Blume. Michael admits that he contracted gonorrhea after a casual encounter with a girl at the beach the summer before he met Katherine. Good girl Katherine admonishes him, "You should never take chances." Sybil becomes pregnant and chooses to have the baby; ever the feminist, Katherine tells her friend Erica, "I'd have an abortion … wouldn't you?" Blume even tackles the issue of impotence with the character of Artie Lewin, who, with the help of Erica, determines that he is not gay but is still unable to have sex. In this case, however, impotence is not just a sexual issue. It symbolizes the lack of autonomy the male characters experience in other parts of their lives. Artie's case is the most serious, as his father has denied him the opportunity to pursue his one great passion, acting. In addition, Artie appears to suffer from manic depression. In one scene, Katherine says that "Artie was in one of his high moods," but seconds later his mood plummets, and he tells everyone that "From now on it's all downhill." Just as his father has robbed him of the power to choose his future, the illness has made him powerless to even regulate his own emotions. Impotence, for Artie, has become a way of life. Similarly, the one time Michael is unable to get an erection, it is just after he has admitted to Katherine that his parents are forcing him to take a job in North Carolina for the summer. The adults in this story urge responsibility, but they sometimes deny the teens the autonomy to make the decisions for which they will bear the responsibility. This paradox plagues the characters throughout the story. As high school seniors, they deal with decisions regarding their future occupations, choice of college (which in turn affects where they will live for the next four years), and financial issues (both Katherine and Michael feel pressure to get summer jobs to help fund their educations). An encounter Katherine has with Michael's uncle illustrates this pressure clearly:
"So tell me," he said, "What do you want to do with your life?"
"Do?" I repeated.
"Yes … you've thought about it, haven't you?"
"I want to be happy," I told him. "And make other people happy too."
"Very nice … but not enough."
"That's all I know right now." I turned and walked away from him.
None of the adults seems to realize that this pressure is at complete odds with a more realistic view of the teens' love lives. Both Katherine and Michael's parents urge them to slow down, not become tied down. Katherine's parents talk about relationships they had in high school, trying to drive home the point that "forever" is an unrealistic goal at age eighteen. Katherine herself demonstrates her own inability to comprehend what "forever" means, when her parents insist that she take a job as a camp tennis instructor for seven weeks: "Seven weeks may not be a lot to you but to me it's forever!" While the parents are quick to acknowledge this inability in regards to love and sex, they somehow feel these same teens should be able to accurately predict their future occupations and the education they will need to prepare for them.
Though most of the emotions and dilemmas facing the teens remain valid in the early 2000s, echoes of the 1960s and early 1970s are heard throughout the novel. For instance, when Katherine's younger sister Jamie uses the word "f―" in reference to Katherine and Michael's relationship, Katherine is taken aback, but Jamie reminds her, "hate and war are bad words but f―isn't." Michael's older sister, Sharon, and her husband casually smoke marijuana in front of Michael and Katherine and offer some to them as well. The bed where Katherine and Michael first have sex sits beneath the iconic "LOVE" poster, and Katherine's mother "never wears a bra." In addition, the main concern of Katherine's parents is not whether she is having sex with Michael but that the relationship is getting too serious. In the era of AIDS, such a relaxed attitude is less common.
If Judy Blume wrote Forever … in the early 2000s, how would the story change? First of all, for Katherine to be the "Everygirl," she would be about sixteen, the average age for a first sexual experience in the early 2000s, and so she would not be dealing at the same time with the pressures of first-time sex and an impending college education. As Blume acknowledges in a note added at the beginning of the novel, if Katherine went to Planned Parenthood for the Pill in 2006, "she would be told it is essential to use a latex condom, along with any other method of contraception," for the prevention of AIDS. Responsible Katherine would probably insist that Michael have an AIDS test as well. She would have a wider array of contraceptive methods available to her, including lower-dose pills, injections, implants, and the patch, to name a few. Other factors—cable TV, earlier sex education in the schools, the Internet—would probably make the twenty-first century Katherine just as knowledgeable at sixteen as the 1975 Katherine at eighteen, and maybe even more so. However, would a sixteen-year-old Katherine handle the affair with the same maturity? If she did, would the reader find her believable?
Also, a teenage girl coming of age in the early 2000s faces new dangers unimagined in 1975. Sexual predators on the Internet lure young girls by preying on their idealistic, romantic views of love, the same views that Katherine has about her relationship with Michael. Katherine's oversexed former boyfriend, Tommy Aronson, who left her because she would not have sex with him, might in the early 2000s decide to slip her a date-rape drug to make her more pliable.
On the positive side, public awareness of mental illnesses is so much greater than in 1975 that Artie's apparent manic depression probably would have been diagnosed earlier and treated with medication.
Overall, despite the obvious differences between 1975 and the early 2000s, the story holds up because the central conflicts are emotional ones, and the questions asked by Katherine still plague every teenage girl: should I have sex now or wait? If now, is this the right boy? Am I doing it right? What if I get pregnant? And the question that Katherine reads in a pamphlet and is unwilling to consider: "Have you thought about how this relationship will end?"
What teens may find irksome is that even though Blume is so sympathetic in her portrayal of teen life and love, in the end, it turns out (once again) that the adults were right all along. The young reader cannot help but wish that Katherine and Michael could buck the odds and make it last, showing those meddlesome parents once and for all that they do not know everything. Teen readers everywhere can take some solace in the fact that, with nearly half of all marriages ending in divorce, adults are having their own problems with the idea of "forever."
Source: Laura Pryor, Critical Essay on Forever …, in Novels for Students, Thomson Gale, 2007.
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In the following interview, Sutton talks with Blume about writing and the impact Forever … has on young adults.
Judy Blume is the 1996 recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award, given annually by ALA's Young Adult Library Services Association and sponsored by School Library Journal. The award honors an author who has made an outstanding contribution to literature for young adults. Blume is being cited for her novel Forever (Bradbury, 1975). The award will be presented next month during ALA's Annual Conference in New York City. (For Carolyn Caywood's thoughts on Forever's significance to young adult literature, see "Teens and Libraries," p. 62.) In anticipation of the award presentation, I met with Blume to talk about her writing and the impact of Forever on young adults.
[Judy Blume:] As I tell the kids, you can ask me anything.
[Roger Sutton:] Well, I was told I had to ask you whether you married the man on the motorcycle [in Wifey].
No way. That came from a little story I heard from a friend of my husband's who was picked up by the police just after he got out of the army. A sheet was found with his military ID on it and they brought him in for questioning. A woman had seen some guy drive up on a motorcycle, throw off a bedsheet, masturbate, and then drive away. It was 20 years later that I used that [incident as a catalyst for sexual awakening] in Wifey.
I was working in a public library when Wifey came out, and the kids were coming in looking for "Judy Blume's new book." We had 10-year-olds asking for it.
Oh, well, I hope they stopped reading soon. It's like Forever. I've had letters from kids as young as 10 who said, "I have read this book and I understood everything in it and everything about it." When kids at a book signing ask me, "How old do I have to be before I read Forever?," I say, "I think you should be at least 12 and then you should have somebody to talk to about it." I think you get more out of a book when you are closer to the protagonist's age. I've also had letters from kids that said, "I started Forever and I don't think I'm ready. So I'm going to wait."
Would you keep younger kids away from Forever, if you could?
No, but I was bothered when I saw it—more than once—on a bookstore shelf right next to Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. I said to the manager, "This makes me uncomfortable. This book doesn't really belong here. It's a whole other group of readers, and I would feel much better if you had it with the mass market paperbacks." She said, "Oh, we did, but it just wasn't moving, and as soon as we put it in the children's section it flew off the shelf."
The hardcover edition of Forever states very prominently on both jacket flaps that the book is "Judy Blume's first novel for adults."
It wasn't. Bradbury Press did that to protect themselves. It was a shock to me when I saw on the inside flap, "her first book for adults," because it wasn't. I never said it was. I didn't want anybody to be told that it was. But Bradbury was young then. [Bradbury's founders] Dick Jackson, [the late] Bob Verrone, and I were all young. I think that they just wanted to say that so they could say to angry parents or teachers or whomever, "But look, this says clearly…." When Wifey was published, I insisted it say right on the cover An Adult Novel because it is. Forever isn't. There really weren't any YA books at that time.
There were no YA books. This was 1975. When did YA books happen?
Well, there was The Outsiders in '67, The Pigman in '68.
But they weren't called YA books. We were writing for "young people." Forever was for an older audience than the younger kids I had written for. I wrote it because my daughter Randy was then 14. It's the only book of mine that came that way. She was reading what a librarian friend called the "pregnant books." They were books about teenaged girls getting pregnant. And the girls had sex because there was something terribly wrong in their lives. They did this terrible thing with a guy not because it felt good, not because they were turned on, not because they loved him, but because something bad was happening in their family. And when they inevitably got pregnant, the pregnancy was linked with punishment. Always. If you had sex you were going to be punished. Now the guys, they were never punished, only the girls.
Randy was reading a lot of these, and she said to me, "Couldn't there ever be a book about two really nice kids in high school who love each other and they do it and nothing bad happens?" That's how I got the idea for Forever: I wrote it because it really bothered me that the message being sent to kids—and primarily to young women—was that sex was being linked with punishment, rather than with pleasure and responsibility. It's the only book I've written because somebody asked me to, and I'm not sure that's how the best books are written. I had a letter last week from the director of a national Down Syndrome organization, and she asked me to write a book for kids who may meet Down Syndrome kids in their classes. I wrote back the letter that I always do, saying that the best books come from someplace deep inside.
A good writer doesn't write what somebody else needs to read.
Sometimes it turns out to be what somebody else needs to read, but you don't write it for that reason. When Marilee Foglesong, chair of the Edwards Award committee, called to tell me I had won, she said "We're giving you this award for Forever." I said, "Really? That's not my best book. For the same age group, I think Tiger Eyes (S. & S., 1982) is a much better book." And she said, "Oh." So then I said, "But, you know, that's very nice if you want to do this."
You know this was a very controversial award.
I'm sure it was. It's been 26 years since I published Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, and I've never had an award from the library world. I've enjoyed that. I never felt accepted and that was ok. The kids like the books and I don't even remember how SLJ reviewed Forever.
They hated it, but noted—presciently—that it would be very popular.
I also had a student in a YA lit class who felt that Forever should be pulled from the shelves because Katherine and Michael don't practice safe sex.
In all the new reprints of the book there is a letter from me about sexual responsibility, which has a different meaning in 1996 than it did in 1975.
The student said that Forever should be removed from libraries—although she liked the book a lot—because it is presented as contemporary fiction yet does not address AIDS, not to mention the more complicated understanding we have of the Pill's benefits and drawbacks. Can you expect fiction to fulfill the need for nonfiction information about sex?
No. My very dear friend Leanne Katz, who heads the National Coalition Against Censorship, has had this very discussion with me. Sometimes I feel, Oh dear, is it responsible, is it okay to have Forever in the library? She really yells at me. Forever is about people. It is about feelings. It is not a sex manual. Does it mean we shouldn't be allowed to read [John O'Hara's] A Rage to Live or [Saul Bellow's] The Adventures of Augie March—two of the "forbiddens" from my youth—because they don't address AIDS? Just because the rules have changed? You can't do that.
I wonder how today's kids read Forever.
I think they read it as an absolutely contemporary novel.
Do they wonder why the characters don't practice safe sex?
You know, there are still so many kids who are not practicing safe sex at all, who feel invulnerable. And so many girls who still say, "He doesn't like condoms, and he says if I won't do it without one then he'll find someone who will." I say to them, "Good, tell him to find somebody else. You tell him that if he's not willing to use a condom, you're not willing to have sex." Of course I couldn't write the same book today. I'm different. The times are different. Forever was published in 1975, and obviously I have to look at where I was, too. I was on the brink of divorce. I had never rebelled as a teenager. I was a very good girl, married very young, and felt that at 35, 36, which was the age I was when writing Forever, that I had missed out on a lot. And yet, while writing the book, I didn't identify so much with Katherine as I did with her mother.
She's a really good mother.
She's a nice mother—she's a librarian.
I don't think Forever is so much a sex manual as it is an introduction to what having sex "is like."
If you're lucky. When that book came out 20 years ago, I really got it for allowing a young woman to enjoy her first sexual experiences. I can remember an angry letter from a librarian who said, "How dare you? Women don't enjoy their first sexual experiences. It takes years and years." Well, not always. Granted, this girl has a very gentle and loving boyfriend, and not everyone is so lucky.
You know, people said you broke a taboo in Forever and changed the rules for YA literature, doing for adolescent sex what Robert Cormier did for downbeat endings in The Chocolate War. Yet YA books, by and large, still have optimistic conclusions, and I think I could count on one hand those that feature on-the-page sex the way Forever does.
I don't think you'd call Forever erotic.
If I were 16, I might. What about those ellipses, starting right in the title? I think that has something to do with it.
That's just the way I write. That's just me.
There's hardly a sentence in there that comes to a full stop.
That's how people talk. Maybe I do it too much. Even when I write letters, it's always dot, dot, dot. People rarely talk in full sentences.
I think it gives an atmosphere of expectancy to the book. There's more to come, there's something left out, there's something not on the page. It sort of heats the book up because you keep thinking, What would happen if that sentence got finished?
It would be nice if I could tell you I did it on purpose, but I didn't. When I read things that other people have written about my books, I'm always surprised. I wonder, Is that what I meant? Or, oh, that's what I meant. I never analyze. Norma Klein, a wonderful friend and writer, once decided that book by book, she was going to analyze what I wrote. She started with Forever and sent me pages on it. It was a very generous and loving analysis, and I wrote back and said, "Don't ever do this to me again. If you want to analyze my books, fine, but don't send the results to me." I don't want to know. It's too scary. We're all scared enough, those of us who write: will it ever happen again? Will I get another idea? How did I do this? When I pick up a book of mine that I wrote even a few years ago, I wonder, How did I do this? I think the more you understand something the worse off you are. It's taken me 20 years to figure this out. I suppose everybody else already knows this, but it's been news to me. When you're writing, you're operating out of some different part of the brain. When it's happening, you're not aware of it, you don't know where what you write is coming from. And when you read it later, you think, Wow. I did that? It's like a surprise.
Source: Roger Sutton, "An Interview with Judy Blume: Forever … Yours," in School Library Journal, Vol. 42, No. 6, June 1996, pp. 24-26.
Blume, Judy, Forever …, Pocket Books, 1975.
Frey, Jennifer, "Otherwise Known as Judy Blume the Great," in Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2004, p. E10.
Goldberg, Beverly, "The Forever Challenge," in American Libraries, Vol. 33, No. 2, February 2002, p. 21.
Goldblatt, Jennifer, "Blume's Day," in New York Times, November 14, 2004, p. 14NJ1.
Holt, Karen, "Judy Blume Wins NBF Lifetime Achievement Prize," in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 251, No. 38, September 20, 2004, p. 10.
Margolis, Rick, "Illinois Librarian Fights On," in School Library Journal, Vol. 47, No. 11, November 2001, p. 14.
Bell, Ruth, Changing Bodies, Changing Lives: Expanded Third Edition: A Book for Teens on Sex and Relationships, Three Rivers Press, 1998.
This book covers most topics readers may want to know about sexuality and teen relationships, including AIDS, STDs, pregnancy, gay sex, and sexual technique. It includes expert essays, teen interviews, and illustrations.
Connell, Elizabeth, The Contraception Sourcebook, McGraw-Hill, 2001.
Connell discusses contraception practices for contemporary couples, ranging from abstinence to the pill. The historical background for each form plus its advantages and disadvantages are provided.
Hernandez, Roger E., Teens and Relationships, Gallup Youth Survey: Major Issues and Trends, Mason Crest Publishers, 2005.
Hernandez has compiled information from a survey taken between 1985 and 2005 to determine what teenagers think about parents, the effects of divorce, family relationships, dating, and friendships.
Sanger, Margaret, The Autobiography of Margaret Sanger, Dover Publications, 2004.
First published in 1938, this book tells the story of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, who dedicated her life to making sure birth control was understood to be a basic human right.
Wheeler, Jill C., Judy Blume, Abdo Publishing Company, 2004.
This book explores the professional challenges that faced Judy Blume as she pursued publication and fought censorship.