I find it sort of funny that the current trend in young adult fiction seems to be about young people dying, when only a year or so ago it was all about young people living forever (as glittery, gorgeous vampires!).
There’s also a trend where kids have escape depressing, futuristic mazes and shit, but I digress…
Don’t get me wrong (and don’t tell anyone) but I actually like YA Fiction, and I couldn’t be happier that teens are getting their noses away from cell phones and Facebook long enough to allow a plotline to form. I just think it’s really interesting how it all seems to follow trends, and I feel like my teen self would turn her nose up at anything that reeked of the ‘t’ word, lest I be just like everyone else.
When I was an adolescent, a visit to the book store was both exciting and fraught with anxiety. I was allowed to select one title and the process for deciding could take at least an hour (sometimes this resulted in multiple titles being bought, if my folks were in a hurry). I loved my books, and I read them over and over, returning back to them like good friends. However if there’s one book that I can recall vividly from that time, it was a Judy Blume tome titled ‘Forever’. After having read the more recent offerings for YA fiction, I am absolutely SHOCKED that ‘Forever’ wasn’t wrapped in plastic and kept in a special section of the bookstore. It was so salacious, so shocking (for an eleven year old) that I obviously read it thirty seven times in one summer.
Katherine, in the middle of her senior year in high school, finds herself strongly attracted to Michael, a boy she meets at a New Year’s party. As their relationship unfolds, the issue of sex comes up more as an emotional and health issue than as a moral one. Both of them are aware that physical intimacy is both common and complicated. Michael has been sexually active, while Katherine hasn’t. Their relationship progresses slowly as they begin to go on dates and trips together; they are accompanied on various meetings by Katherine’s friend, Erica, who has known Katherine since the 9th grade and believes that sex is a physical act and not a romantic act. Erica and Katherine are also joined by Michael’s friend Artie, who, with Erica’s help, explores and acknowledges some uncertainty about his own sexuality. Artie is a depressed teenager who feels life is over after high school. He shows his depression when he attempts to hang himself from his shower curtain rod but fails.
When Katherine and Michael do have sex on Michael’s sister’s bedroom floor, they are sure it seals a love that will be “forever.” Michael buys Katherine a necklace for her birthday that says both of their names on it and it also says “Forever”. However, separated for the summer by work that takes them to two different states, Katherine finds herself aware of the limitations of the relationship and is ultimately attracted to a tennis instructor, Theo, who is older and more experienced in life. She takes responsibility for breaking the news to Michael when he comes on a surprise visit and almost catches her and Theo together. Katherine realizes the ‘loss’ of Michael, while painful at first, can be the start of new successful relationships. The book ends with Katherine’s mother giving her a message that Theo called for her.
This is probably NOT the appropriate Judy Blume novel for your average 11 year old. In fact, ‘Forever’ reads more like a bumbling ’50 Shades of Grey’ (less S&M, more descriptions of ejaculation) and less like a chaste loss of innocence. While my friends were reading Blume’s ‘Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret’* I was devouring every page devoted to Katherine and Michael banging their uglies together.
I also was a bit uncomfortable because Blume makes Katherine seem like a stone fox while she describes Michael as ‘skinny’ with a ‘mess of reddish blonde hair and a mole on the center of his cheek’. He also wore glasses, so in my mind, I’m picturing this suave nerd just lucking out with the ladies (I kept seeing Anthony Michael Hall in ‘The Breakfast Club’). I’m not sure why he was so amazing, because Blume didn’t really say that his wang was anything special-in fact, she sort of describes it as pretty average. I was really turned OFF by Michael. In fact, ‘Forever’ made me decide that when I finally did give it up to some dude, it WASN’T going to be on some multicolored rug in his sister’s house and certainly not to some ginger string bean with a mole-y face and a penchant for twee personalized jewelry (Michael gives Katherine a gold necklace with both of their names and the word ‘Forever’ emblazoned on it). Barf.
I will say that ‘Forever’ did leave me with a very real view on what a relationship is like and how easily they can end. Katherine takes control of her sexuality; she goes to Planned Parenthood and gets the pill; she takes control with that nerd; and when homeboy starts acting like a controlling fool she upgrades to the hunky Theo. She didn’t meet Michael and get married in high school; he didn’t glitter in the sun or die shortly after they consummated their relationship on that Technicolor dream rug. She wasn’t overly wistful or wise beyond her years. Katherine was a normal girl, with a best friend (the quite promiscuous Erica), a nice family and a wicked backhand. Despite some dated elements, this tome is as relevant today as when it was originally penned in 1975, and for that reason this YA novel will be one of my very favorites… Forever.
*’Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret’ is another Judy Blume novel about a girl really excited (and anxious) to get her first period. I say this is dated, because I don’t know anyone that looks forward to this ‘milestone’. I, for one, refused to take off my rollerskates and come inside from the driveway on the day that mine occurred. Also, AYTGIMM confused the FUCK out of me, because before there was adhesive backing on maxi pads, people clipped them onto specially made belts. YIKES.