Forever by Judy Blume
This was always going to be a controversial and more-carefully-worded-than-usual review, and I’ve never had to consider writing a warning for commenters before. Wish me luck!
After a New Year’s Party, teenager Kath finds the boy of her dreams in Michael. They get together, and the more she sees of him the more she becomes attracted to him. He’s smart, he’s funny, and eventually the conversation turns round to the important question of whether they will do IT. Despite her best friend Erica’s forthright approach to sex though, Kath is reluctant to just give it away so quickly and finds herself facing a whole raft of issues to think about. Follow Kath as she navigates the tricky route of first love and first time.
It’s very easy to see why this book has been such a favourite for thirty years. It’s also equally easy to see why it has on occasion been censored, looking as it does at explicit first time teenage sex. It’s worth mentioning by the way, that it does so from a health and emotional point of view rather than a moral one, so this review will try to avoid that area as well. If you feel it is morally wrong for teenagers to have sex, that is your own opinion and you are certainly entitled to it, however I’m trying to avoid reviewing with any of the arguments for or against it in mind. Morality is something I prefer to discuss face-to-face, where words aren’t as easily misinterpreted when they’ve got the facial expressions, body language and linguistic emphasis to go with them. That, and online morality attracts trolls like you wouldn’t believe.
Phew, heavy stuff out the way! On with the review and I hope that anyone who wants to have a chat is not put off from doing so – bookchat is neat.
It’s almost impossble to know where to start with this book. I’ve tried to start this paragraph at least three times and can only hope I’ve gone in the right direction now! I think maybe this is because the book is, if I’m not sounding too overdramatic, a bit of a subtle masterpiece. It’s a bit odd saying that, considering how frank it can be at points (and I’ll give you only one guess which points they are), but it’s true. Kath is a character that’s very easy to relate to and through her a whole host of various sexual lessons can be subtley absorbed (and no, not that kind of sexual lesson, get your mind out of the gutter!).
Kath is brilliantly written; whilst she’s sure enough in her own mind to say no to boys who clearly want only one thing, she’s complex enough to still fall for Michael, who I have to confess I never really quite came round to. She’s clearly a character that girls can live their own mistakes through or store away as an example for the future when they’re going through their own first relationship. The question of whether to make love with someone or not is obviously a complex one and passive-aggressive Michael certainly does not make it any easier. I have to confess that I really didn’t warm to him, especially as every meeting Kath has with him seems to involve sex in some way. It does leave the reader wondering why Kath has turned down boys like Michael before but not him, although this has an upside too; you can live through Kath and see her mistakes and misundertandings even when she doesn’t. Despite my frustration with her and Michael, she can be a bit of a role model in terms of how carefully she considers sex and does not allow Michael’s occasionally passive-agressive arguments to sway her away from what she thinks and feels is right. My favourite point is when she’s snuggled up with Michael, having become fairly involved in the physical aspect of their relationship, and yet she finds herself wondering as Michael says he loves her, whether the reason she can’t say I love you back is because is it possible to really love someone having met them only 19 times? That is for me why she’s a bit of a heroine – she can step outside the lovey-dovey rose-tinted-spectacles part of being in love to see the realities of a situation, and knows her own mind enough to not get too wrapped up in the physical aspects.
Her maturity does seem atypical though, especially when compared to Erica (who feels she needs to get laid before college) and Sybil (who allows herself to get pregnant). This isn’t a bad thing though and it serves to make a point – every generation thinks they’re more enlightened than the last, and yet as Erica and Sybil and even Kath show, that’s not necessarily the case. It’s also a good point to make, as no matter how much sex education you can have there will always be someone who’s naive enough to want to go through pregnancy for the experience (!). I really love the point Blume makes though that confidence is not the same as knowledge; It’s a point that’s well worth making and I think can get overlooked in sex ed.
Which brings us neatly to the real point of the book – it is, after all, a frank representation of a teenager’s first love and first time. Every older reader I’ll wager would be able to see something of their past relationshis in Kath and Michael’s first few dates, right down to Kath wondering if they’d actually started yet, sorting herself out afterwards, and wondering whether she’ll be the same as her mum whom she has of course heard despite her parents’ attempts at privacy. I especially like the grandmothers point of view too – she’s the one who presents Kath with information on sexual health in the form of pamphlets (which contain a set of questions that are well worth remembering by people much older than Kath) and on the back of this Kath is prompted to visit the family planning clinc, whose exmaination and treatment of Kath is, again, related in some clear detail. I love the non-judgemental way all of this information is presented by Blume – it’s like all the questions you ever wanted to ask as a teenager in the one book, without any judgement so you can take away from it what you want.
It’s not all about sex though, oh no. Another major theme that rang especially true for me, even as an adult, was that you can never fully know another person. Case in point is how Michael and Kath’s relationship changes as they come to know one another, which is contrasted nicely with Erica and Artie’s. It’s two different relationships that both seem to at least in part be based on big misunderstandings of character. Again, Kath and Erica’s stories serve as subtle lessons for the reader in this.
The one reservation I have with any of this is that this review could be a complete load of baloney – I am after all reveiwing this as an adult woman and my teenage years have been done for a while (although not too long, thank you very much). Would I see the same things in this book as a teenager as I do now I wonder? Would I be so disapproving of Michael, would I be embarassed by the frank representations of the family planning clinic and Kath’s first time? Would I find msyelf nodding along with Erica as she confidently diagnoses Artie? I’d like to think I wouldn’t and would have got as much out of this book then as I did now, but the question still stands – what would a teenager think of it?
Luckily though, teenage girls still buy the book in droves and I think it serves it’s purpose beautifully as the Information You Wanted To Know But Didn’t Know Where To Get It. It’s become timeless in that respect, despite it’s thirty year publication. It begs the question though, is there anything of it’s ilk for boys? Being told primarily from Kath’s point of view, the emphasis is mostly on Kath’s exerience of sex and of a relationship, but in the interests of fairness I’d love to read something as all encompassing and to the point as Forever for teenage boys.
And it goes without saying – if as a parent you still wonder about whether this book would be sutable for your child, make sure to have a look through first. Just don’t let your teen know you have done so, embarassment factor and all 🙂
Find the book here
Read another, much better worded review here