In celebration of Banned Book Week’s 30th Anniversary, I’m spending the entire week reviewing books that have been challenged for one reason or another. While yesterday’s Robopocalypse was a new release, today’s book of choice has been around for a long time but one I’d never read until now.

Title: Forever
Author: Judy Blume
ISBN: 9781416934004
Pages: 192 pages
Publisher/Date: Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c1975 (renewed c2003)

It occurred to me in the middle of the night that Michael asked if I was a virgin to find out what I expected of him. If I hadn’t been one then he probably would have made love to me. What scares me is I’m not sure how I feel about that. (20)

Katherine and Michael’s first meeting is innocent enough, the exchange of a few words at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party. But they’re both intrigued by each other, and have their first date the very next day. It’s a great way to start off the New Year as their relationship blooms and advances from hand holding to declaring their love for each other. Their parents caution them about first loves, but Katherine and Michael are adamant that this is going to work out. With everyone saying “take it slow” and “this won’t last”, Katherine and Michael have big decisions to make as they finish their senior year, decisions that will affect their lives and relationship.

A refreshingly honest portrayal of first romance and love that still rings true after all these years (and I really didn’t realize how many years it has been). Unlike today’s books where we see instant sparks and love at first sight, Katherine and Michael’s love for each other starts off slow and builds. They attend different schools, so they only see each other mostly on the weekends and some nights. I think this adds to their evolution together, as they aren’t available for hand-holding, walking each other to classes, eating lunch together or stealing kisses in the hallway.

The story is almost timeless, with just one mention of records at the very beginning and a lack of cell phones being the only glaring difference between now and when the book was written more than 35 YEARS(!) ago. It’s older than Banned Book Week, which is celebrating its 30th Anniversary this year. I actually don’t recall reading a whole lot of Judy Blume when I was younger except the Fudge series, although I acutely remember writing a paper on her because years later I found the same book I used to write the report in my library (I recognized the cover photo) so she must have made some impact.

I’m presenting this book during Banned Book Week and I can understand why parents might still object to it all these years later (it was number #16 of top 100 books banned from 2000-2009). While not explicit or overly graphic, it does portray the characters having sex. Katherine is intent on waiting, and although it’s not a very long time (about three months) before they’re seriously considering sex, it’s nice to see a guy who’s respectful of that choice and doesn’t pressure her (much). While everything is told from Katherine’s perspective, we do witness a little bit of what the guy goes through, as Michael complains about pain, there’s premature ejaculation, and also a time when things just aren’t happening. (I’m afraid including these details is going to give me a lot more traffic from people not looking for book reviews, but there’s no other way to describe it. *laughing*) The othering refreshing aspect of the book is it portrays different points of view, with the novel bringing up topics of pregnancy and sex out of wedlock, sexually transmitted diseases, abortions, and questioning sexuality.

Katherine’s family is just as upfront about it as Blume is in her descriptions. Her mother and grandmother (who if you think about it would have been born sometime in the 40s at the latest!) are surprisingly frank but also hands off about their advice, giving Katherine articles about sex and referring her to Planned Parenthood. They do answer her questions when she approaches them, but they let Katherine make her own decisions about when it’s the right time to talk. Katherine’s father is understandably more straight-forward about the discussion. He sits down with her and flatly tells her that he doesn’t “want to see her tied down” and that she’s “too young to make lifetime decisions.” (74) The Planned Parenthood scene is portrayed as very clinical, sterile, and professional, presenting her options and describing the process with again very minimal details.

My physical consisted of weight and blood pressure, a routine breast exam, with the doctor explaining how I should check my breasts each month, then my first pelvic examination. I tried to act as if I was used to it, but I didn’t fool the doctor, who said “Try to relax, Katherine. This isn’t going to hurt.” And it didn’t either, but it was uncomfortable for a minute, like when he pushed with one hand from inside and with the other from the outside.
Then he slipped this cold thing into my vagina and explained, “This is a vaginal speculum. It holds the walls of the vagina open so that the inside is easily seen.” […]
“I’m almost done now, Katherine . . . just a Pap smear . . . there,” he said, passing a long Q-tip kind of thing to his assistant. “And the gonorrhea culture . . . okay . . . that does it.” He took off his rubber glove. (119-120)

Quite obviously meant for teens, I would recommend it to any girl who considered herself in a serious relationship or was thinking about having sex. Katherine and her friends show times of insight that every reader could benefit from. While the challenges are correct that it does portray sex between teenagers, masturbation, and birth control, these are all things that teens should be informed about before reaching college. Katherine shows responsibility, restraint and forward planning, all things that readers are encouraged to emulate, and something that parents should be relieved is being portrayed to their children in a positive and nonjudgmental manner.