Friday, 12 June 2015

Forever- Judy Blume

The cover I remember from my youth

When YA author Keris Stainton mentioned a Judy Blume readalong, I knew I'd be jumping onto that bandwagon.  I've been a fan of Judy's for over twenty five years, and it's been a while since I've reread her books.  I recently pledged to reread it when I was interviewed for Jaffa Reads Too.  You could say it was perfect timing!

Forever is one of those books people talk about.  It's a book about sex for starters, and that always gets tongues wagging.  And a YA book about sex, that was first published in 1975?  That's pretty groundbreaking by anyone's standards.

The plot is simple.  Girl (Katherine) meets boy (Michael).  They fall in love.  They have sex.  They promise each other forever.  Life changes.  Suddenly forever seems a very long time...

I remembered so much of the book as I reread it- Jamie embroidering mushrooms onto jeans, the fondue party, Sharon and Ike smoking weed, Katherine's grandma sending her 'the package'... and of course, Ralph.  It was all so clear in my mind. I could even remember certain phrases word for word.  I don't think I could do that with some of the books I read in the last few weeks, but Forever, which I read over and over as a teen- it's somehow engrained in my mind.

The first time I read it I was thirteen, and an inexperienced thirteen at that.  I hadn't been kissed, let alone anything else, although I did know people in my year at school and the year above who were having sex.  I don't remember being shocked by the content though, even then- especially as Katherine and Michael are seventeen.  There was definitely an element of titillation though, and a wonder as to whether the sex scenes were accurate.  Reading this book as an adult is completely different to reading it as a teenager.

Things that struck me as I reread Forever-

The cover of the copy I now own
-I don't like Michael. I never did as a teen particularly, either.  I always felt he pressured Katherine and guilt tripped her when she didn't want to be intimate.  I still felt like that reading it now, but it made me more cross as an adult than it ever did in my teen years that as her boyfriend he felt he had the right to pressure her in that way.

-The sentences are generally short and simple, and the reading age is a lot younger than the content.  It's accessible, and can be read very quickly.  There's a lot of dialogue, but never much conversation.

-The fringe characters are really interesting, in many ways far more appealing than the protagonists.  They deserve their own books, Sybil and Artie in particular. I'd love to know what happened in their lives.

-It's about so much more than sex.  There's drugs, and teen pregnancy, and bereavement, and mental health issues.  For a book that's 178 pages, that's a lot to cover. 

-Judy Blume is so straightforward and to the point!  She's honest.  She also manages to educate through aspects of her plot (e.g. birth control) without coming across as preachy.

Do I think Forever would appeal to young people today as much as it did ten, twenty, thirty or forty years ago?  Possibly not.  The YA spectrum is so much more diverse now than it ever was then, and when you compare Blume's simplistic writing style to that of some of today's best-sellers such as John Green- it's world's apart. 

But there's still a place for Judy Blume, both on YA bookshelves and in my heart, because she tells stories that leave an impact and stay with you long after closing the book. 

And that will never, ever go out of style.

With thanks to Pan Macmillan, who sent me a new copy of Forever when I was appealing for anyone who may have my original copy to come forward.  If you happen to have the Pan Horizons issue shown above, with 'Kate loves Howard' written in the front, I would love to swap it for a new edition!


You're not too late to join in the Judy Blume readathon!  Find out more by visiting Keris Stainton's blog or following the hashtag #readalongralph.  The next book we're reading is Are You There God?  It's me, Margaret.

Judy Blume week is coming to Books with Bunny starting July 20th.

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