Rewind book: Forever…, by Judy Blume (1975)
by Judy Blume
Since 1969, readers have devoured American writer Judy Blume's young adult novels in an attempt to figure out how to navigate the tough business of growing up. Whether it is menstruation, masturbation or dealing with a pesky sibling, Blume captures the hopes and fears important to those under the age of 18. In Forever…, she addresses teen sex and virginity.
Director, actress and writer Lena Dunham remembers stealing her babysitter's copy of the novel: "I had no clue what anybody was talking about. I don't think any of the depictions of sex were more to me than just, like, an image of two people's arms rubbing together; I just had no clue."
The first line of the book signals that the subject matter is going to be risqué: "Sybil Davison has a genius IQ and has been laid by at least six different guys." In a single sentence, Blume declares that it is possible for a young woman to be sexually active and intelligent. The opening makes it clear there is going to be more than heavy petting in the novel. A few pages in, there is a subtle oral sex joke that is passed off as innocent banter between two friends about a boy's height.
At a New Year's Eve party thrown by Sybil, protagonist-narrator Katherine Danziger meets Michael Wagner. Katherine is a virgin, Michael is not. They go on dates, talk a lot about feelings and sex, fall in love and use the word "forever" in earnest.
When the sex takes place it is unglamorous, anti-climatic and a little comic - there is nothing sexy. ("Are you in … are we doing it?") Later, Katherine goes to Planned Parenthood to consult a doctor about birth-control options - and Blume takes the opportunity to inform readers how to be responsible without being preachy.
From 1990-99, Forever… was seventh on a list of 100 of the American Library Association's list of most challenged books. (According to its website, "A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group".) Other books in the top 10 include I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.
Forever… seems innocuous in 2014: it never crosses the boundary into crassness. Instead, it is frank, charming and almost wholesome, kind of like a declaration of being together forever.