In the third teaser from KYD issue 24, Simmone Howell remembers Judy Blume’s Forever. Blume’s most loved – and controversial – novel empowered millions of girls about their sexuality. But how does it stand up to a close reading four decades after its original publication?
When I was eleven, my favourite things included Bonne Bell lip gloss, Ice Magic, 1982 In the Sun and reading. I devoured Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High books, but Judy Blume was the first author I felt like I knew. At a time when most of the adult voices around me seemed consistently inconsistent, Judy’s – and that was how I thought of her, first-name basis – felt trustworthy.
Since being eleven was much like being in limbo, it was nice to have some company, even if it was only on the page. My older sisters had become silent and secretive once puberty hit. If I was ever going to learn how to grow up, it would be through books, and Judy’s were both a comfort and portent for things to come.
From 1970 to 1980, Judy Blume wrote fourteen books for young people; of these, I have read twelve. I remember them by subject (Judaism, scoliosis, wet dreams) and by small, evocative details: grape jelly, apartments with cheerful doormen, the New York Times, Esther Williams. Karen from It’s Not the End of the World had a rug shaped like a foot; Margaret, from Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, coveted sanitary pads that had actual belts – and so, for a time, did I.
Though I read Judy’s books out of order, I somehow knew Forever should be saved for last. This might have been due to parental fielding, or it might have been due to marketing. Judy’s other books were published under the Pan Piccolo imprint, but Forever was a Pan Horizons, indicating more grown-up content.
It has been forty years since Forever was first published. It is Blume’s most contentious novel, notably making the American Library Association’s List of Most Frequently Challenged Books as recently as 2001.
The problem? Forever was explicit about sex and contraception – it could almost be read as an instructional guide – and also broached homosexuality and, albeit fleetingly, suicide.
‘Sexuality and death – those are the two big secrets we try to keep from children,’ Judy stated in an interview with Joyce Maynard, ‘partly because the adult world isn’t comfortable with them either.’
I had a churchy upbringing, and in my household sex was not discussed. There were copies of Where Did I Come From and What’s Happening To Me on our bookshelves, but they were just information, and had all the appeal of a science textbook.
I read Forever around the same time as I read Puberty Blues by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey. The sex in Puberty Blues was brutal and inevitable, and little to do with the teenage protagonists’ own desires. Forever was a far gentler exploration of the subject.
Want to read the rest? Issue 24 will be hitting subscriber mailboxes later this week, and is available online Monday 21st December! Be the first to read it by purchasing a print or online subscription to KYD.