Young Love in the Crosshairs

  • By Laura Hazan
  • January 22, 2024

Reading Judy Blume’s oft-targeted Forever as an adult.

Young Love in the Crosshairs

According to the American Library Association (ALA), Judy Blume is one of the most-banned authors of the 21st century. When I was growing up, she was the number-one banned author in my house, particularly her teen romance, Forever.

Published in 1975, Forever tells the story of Katherine and Michael, seniors in high school who meet at a party and fall in love as the book progresses. By 1979, when I was 12 years old, all of my friends were reading it, and I wanted to read it, too. I was in a bookstore with my mother and asked her to buy it.

I’d read most of Blume’s coming-of-age stories at that point. My favorite will always be Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, but others included Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, Deenie, and Blubber. These titles all have scenes that tackle age-appropriate subjects such as bullying, masturbation, puberty, and first crushes.

I guess my mother never looked at those books, possibly because they were borrowed from my school library. But when I asked her to buy Forever, she immediately flipped through it. Just my luck, she opened it to one of the few sex scenes and gave me a big fat NO.

I never did read Forever until recently, as part of the Independent’s effort to highlight banned books. I knew immediately which one I wanted to write about — the one banned not only by my mother but also by schools and libraries across the country. Forever is targeted so frequently, in fact, that it has a recurring spot on the ALA’s “100 most challenged books” list.

I wish I’d read Forever as a teenager. Blume has a way of taking complicated emotions, physical yearnings, and tough decisions and making them relatable for her intended audience. Young adult (YA) didn’t exist as a genre when Blume wrote her books, yet her works are indisputably aimed at teen and preteen readers.

In Forever, Katherine and Michael have a typical high-school romance. They attend different schools and meet at a party given by a mutual friend. Michael is smitten right away and returns to the friend’s house the following morning. Katherine had stayed overnight with the friend, discussing Michael until the wee hours. When he gets there to pick up the records he’d left, he invites Katherine to take a ride with him. She agrees, and a relationship blossoms.

Blume infuses the novel with subtle parental guidance, but in a good way. Katherine, the narrator, takes her time getting to know Michael — a suggestion most parents make to their teens when they start dating. Their love grows at a steady pace — almost too reasonably steady for a teen romance — but their physical relationship moves more quickly. The teens make out for the first time soon after their first date. (Blume portrays this “first experience” awkwardness realistically.)

Forever’s supporting cast also provides guidance for Katherine. Her younger sister has her own crush on Michael; her parents are a strong presence throughout; and her grandmother encourages her to go to Planned Parenthood. Meanwhile, Katherine’s close friend struggles with her own romance, and they offer strong shoulders to each other. Michael’s family makes an appearance, too.

Katherine and Michael are eventually invited on a ski weekend with his older sister. The trip involves a few sweet scenes of Michael teaching Katherine to ski and, soon, of them having sex (which is surely what got the book banned). What Blume does so well is portray the young people as mature enough to make their own decisions. They have excellent communication, and neither is coerced into doing anything they don’t want to do. But while they’re still very much in love near the end of the novel, they’re also still teens.

Perhaps Forever is a bit dated for today’s audience — do kids today even know what a landline phone is? — but I still highly recommend it. The story it tells — about the thrill and heartache of first love — is universal and timeless.

Laura Hazan is a librarian at Enoch Pratt Free Library and chair of the 2024 Washington Writers Conference.

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