Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Challenged Books: Forever by Judy Blume

Blume, Judy. (1975). Forever. New York, NY: Simon Pulse.          

Plot Summary: As a high school senior, Katherine wants her “first time” to be special.  Even though her friends have no qualms about sleeping with any boy they find interesting, Katherine wants love.  When she meets Michael everything she thought about boys changes instantly.  To both Katherine and Michael they can’t seem to get enough of each other and are convinced they are in love.  When Katherine finally sleeps with Michael their connection seems to grow stronger and they start making plans to be together even after high school.  But, when Katherine is forced to spend her summer as a tennis coach away from Michael, she meets someone that makes her question how long her “forever” with Michael will truly be.

Critical Analysis: Considered as “A convincing account of first love” by The New York Times, Judy Blume’s teen novel, Forever speaks very candidly about the teenage experience and perspective of first love. According to Children’s Literature review“…this book is as relevant for teens today as it was to teens in the seventies.” Although Forever was written in 1975, much of the insecurities and anxieties that teens faced during this time period are still present today.  Social expectations, peer pressure, along with many other common current teen issues never really go away.  Although controversial at the time for its explicitness, Blume is able to demonstrate the immediate connection and attraction of young adults who feel they are in love.  She also does a good job of showing how lack of experience, naiveté, and hormones can often lead teenagers into feeling and thinking in certain ways. 

Although the story did portray the connection between Katherine and Michael in an honest way, I found the character development throughout the story a little lacking.  I didn’t find myself cheering for Katherine or Michael.  Even for the time period, the lack of parental or family involvement/interference was not very realistic.  Her parents didn’t know Michael very well, and when they noticed that Katherine was serious about her relationship with him they didn’t care to find out more about Michael’s family background.  It seemed as if they were a little blasé about her relationship with Michael and only hinted that she should keep her options open. It wasn’t until the end when they finally tried to separate Katherine from Michael by sending her to coach tennis over the summer.  Katherine’s grandmother was a little more direct.  She sent her pamphlets from Planned Parenthood and told her in a letter that she “thought these might come in handy” (p.109).  However, the letter seemed awkward and an excuse to make grandma the one who’s realistic about her dating Michael.  You also don’t really understand why Katherine likes Michael so much.  Other than physical attraction, they don’t get to know each other enough before they admit to being in love.  Their relationship was not very deep and seemed to revolve around planning for sex - which is a little strange because Katherine broke up with her first boyfriend because all he wanted to do was sleep with her.  Michael isn't really that different other than the fact that he is a little more patient with her.  There was very little family background for Katherine or Michael. Their friends, Erica and Artie, had even less character development.  It’s hard to say if this was due to the first person narrative because you could only see from Katherine’s point of view; however, I think more could have been done to develop the side characters a little better.  One friend named Sybil was mentioned at the very beginning of the story, yet she is the one who is least present of all.  She is only randomly brought up again when she turns up pregnant in the middle of the story.  I actually had to go back and look for this character because I forgot who she was. 

The plot of the story fell flat for me.  It really didn’t go anywhere interesting.  The relationship between Katherine and Michael was not very dynamic or deep in any way, even though the characters themselves thought so.  There was a lot of stereotyping in this story as well.  The author impressed upon the reader that teenagers only cared about sex and very few cared about who it was with.  In addition, abortion is apparently the obvious choice (for everyone) when there is an unwanted pregnancy.  Katherine’s friend Sybil ended up pregnant in the middle of the story because of her philandering ways.  So, when her friend Erica says Sybil can’t keep the baby and will put it up for adoption, Katherine says, “Then why have it in the first place?” (p. 136).  Erica replied that Sybil thought an abortion was the best option; however, she wanted to give birth “for the experience.” It could have been an excuse to not have an abortion, but it’s hard to say.  Katherine was very clear that she would have had an abortion and even Erica said she would have chosen an abortion “In a minute." It makes these characters seem heartless because they don’t even have to think about it. 

Overall, the story does show and honest account of the ups, downs, and sometimes failures of first love.  It also does a good job of demonstrating how awkward, unsure, and self-conscious a teenage girl’s first time could be.  However, the lack of character development and likability of the characters themselves made this book a little boring.  There was no real plot to the story other than a teenage girl’s insecurities of her “first time,” and the inconsistent nature of the teenage heart. The book is intended for teenage and young adult readers; however, it is not something I would read again.  Therefore, I would probably not recommend it.

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