Monday, September 17, 2012

Forever...: A Novel

1975, 1976 Pocket Books edition
Judy Blume
Forever...: A Novel
Original price $1.75, purchase price unknown
Very worn paperback with pages falling out

I mostly got Judy Blume books from the library rather than buying them.  I obviously didn't get this book at eight years old, but I did read it in junior high.  It was a rite of passage at my school, perhaps for many girls of my generation, and a little younger or older.  (Like knowing about the "must improve bust" thing in Blume's Are You There, God? It's Me Margaret.)  Everyone knew about "Ralph" and the "dirty pages."  Those aren't the ones falling out of this edition.  Actually, I'm losing the pages towards the beginning and end, including the "1970s shampoo commercial" color plate of Katherine and Michael, with the cover isolating her face inside a locket which in no way resembles the necklace he buys for her birthday.

At 12 or 13, few of us were sexually active, certainly not I.  But even five or six years after this book came out, it felt dated.  Katherine is almost 18, which seemed terribly old to be losing your virginity.  (More so than it did to 17- or 18-year-olds of course.)  There are lots of '70s touches, like the hooked rugs and embroidered jeans that Katherine's sister Jamie designs.  (Even the name "Jamie" feels so '70s to me, as it belonged to both the Bionic Woman and my ex-stepbrother who died in 1979.)  This reading, I was struck by how upper-middle-class everyone is, not just because they all plan to go to college, but because they go skiing and have not only a den but a room off of the den.  I also wondered if Katherine's last name, Danziger, was a tribute to writer Paula Danziger, Blume's fellow New Jersey juvenile/YA author.

But what of the book?  What of the characters, the plot?  The thing is, it's hard to separate all this out from the content.  Forever is as much its reputation (including Banned Books lists) as it is itself.  For instance, when I worry about Artie more than the characters seem to, is it because I'm more aware as a middle-aged bisexual how hard it is to be a "sexually confused" teenager?  Artie is "impotent" with Katherine's friend Erica, who pressures him into sex less successfully than Michael pressures Katherine.  ("Nice guy" or not, what jumps out at me now are the moments Michael grabs her hand or wrist, as when he first asks her out.  And he's only patient in comparison to her last boyfriend.)  Artie might be gay, it's unclear, but he does attempt suicide.  This isn't fully dealt with.  Nor is the surprise pregnancy of Erica's fat cousin Sybil, although it does lead Erica and Katherine to a brief discussion of abortion.

I do like the visit Katherine makes to Planned Parenthood, suggested by her liberated grandmother giving her birth control pamphlets.  The book certainly gets points for encouraging teens to be responsible about sex.  I do have to say that as an adult, I find the "dirty parts" neither hot nor repellent.  They're definitely more explicit than in the previous YA novel in my collection of a girl in her late teens becoming sexually active, Laura Ingalls Wilder in The First Four Years.  (There, Ma says in so many words that you have to pay for the fun of sex with pregnancy, but at least she admits it's fun.)

The book is more interesting than good.  I don't believe in the "love" that Katherine and Michael claim to feel for each other.  Even in my bad relationships (including with the first boyfriend, who was just trying to get me to join his Bible Study Group), we talked more about non-sex topics than these two do.  This might be OK if Blume's couple weren't supposed to be intelligent, articulate, and sensitive.  Their break-up comes when she admits she's attracted to another guy.  That's all!  She hasn't cheated, but Michael storms off into the night.  And I laugh every time because he claims he "screwed his way around North Carolina," and she shouts, "Lair!"  Of all the unfortunate typos....

Why does the title have ellipses?  Because the narrative has lots of ellipses.  And because forever may seem to stretch into infinity but it has to come to an end some time, or at least young love does.  One of the pamphlets Katherine reads asks, "Have you thought about how this relationship will end?"  The one thing I did get out of reading this book when I was so young is that I always think about how my relationships will end, I never think they'll last forever.  And in most cases, that's been a damn good thing, too.

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