words: Terri-Jane Dow
When I was ten, my mother innocently bought me a copy of Judy Blume’s Forever. Voracious young reader that I was, I was working my way through Blume’s back catalogue, and it was one I didn’t have. In case you’ve never heard of it, Forever is Blume’s foray out of Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret and into what can only be described as soft erotica for the Young Adult market. I don’t think ten year olds were Judy’s target audience. It’s a coming-of-age novel about two 18 year olds, Katherine and Michael (and, let’s be honest, Michael’s penis, affectionately named “Ralph”, which might be the least sexy name ever).
With regard to the naughty parts, I obviously took it to school and read them aloud to wide-eyed girls in the playground. I’m certain that none of us had a clue what was actually going on, or why we just innately knew that we needed to keep it a secret. I then lent it to a friend who was already at secondary school, where it was confiscated after she sat at the back of the classroom and passed it around to all the other girls.
As an adult — and as a woman who went to an all-girls’ school, and still finds teenage boys utterly terrifying — I have hilariously fond memories of that book. Re-reading it now, it’s far tamer than I remembered, and far cheesier, but I’m actually impressed at how little Blume shies away from. The issues the novel deals with – Katherine and Michael’s fumbling first sexual experiences, Katherine going on the Pill, their friend Artie’s depression and suicide attempt – are confronted head-on, evidenced by the fact that the book has seen varying levels of scrutiny from censorship advisors since its publication in 1975.
I’m still not sure if my mum knew what it was about, or if she was just super savvy in my sex education, and decided that Ralph was the least embarrassing way to go about it.
Terri-Jane is a publishing assistant and writer. She lives in London, where she alternates writing short stories and drinking gin. Follow her on Twitter.
We explore more coming of age books in issue 36, Awake. Pick up your copy here.