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Judy Blume Revisited! Forever…

Welcome to my Judy Blume in July series! Ok, it’s now August. However, I read some classic Judy Blume novels throughout July and culminated with In the Unlikely Event, which I will review here as well.

The book: Forever…

My rating as a teen: 3-4 stars

My rating as an adult: 2-3 stars

Forever… was never my favorite Judy Blume book, though I knew several pre-teen girls who worshipped it because the story was a gateway into the life of a sexually active teenager. And even though I’m always a sucker for sex in a book, Forever… didn’t click for me as kid/teen. I actually have no idea when I first read it. I may have been 12. Or 15. I was fortunate to have parents with full-time jobs who didn’t pay any attention to what I read (just glad I was choosing to read) and so I may as well have been as young as 8.

I can understand why parents are so put off by this book. Katherine’s parents and grandmother all but give her The Joy of Sex for her birthday. I wish I had such cool and understanding parents at that age. I wish I could have talked to them so frankly about sex. And maybe this is why I had a hard time liking it as a young girl: Katherine’s family (and Michael’s sister) was  more progressive than my own and so her world didn’t resonate with me at all.

One thing that sticks out to me now is how prevalent “Judy Blume’s Message” is about safe and consensual sex throughout the book. As a kid/teen, I would never call Judy “preachy”. But seeing Forever… through wise (jaded?) eyes I see what she was trying to do. Judy was never one to tell kids NOT to do anything. She knew better. Kids are meant to explore everything- including sex- so why not provide the safest environment for them? However, this doesn’t mean that Judy was such a free-wheeling hippie that she couldn’t advise, and even warn, against engaging in pre-marital and teenage sex at too young of an age.

I was so surprised at how PUSHY I found Katherine’s paramour, Michael, when it came to sex. Don’t do it when you’re not ready! Stick to your guns! If it doesn’t feel right, it’s okay to wait! I can almost hear Judy’s near parental rant throughout Katherine’s struggle to come to terms with her body sensations versus her fear of engaging in sex. And yet Michael says he understands, but we know he really doesn’t. What shines through so clearly to me now is how YOUNG and IMMATURE these two are. I’m not saying they shouldn’t have sex, but I understand Judy’s point. You might think you are an adult at age 17/18, but think again.

Judy isn’t necessarily being preachy here, but her message is stronger in this book than in others. She understands kids. She understands the course and rush of emotions that permeate and affect every decision. Almost everything a kid and teen feels is guided by a strong emotion. They feel love more hotly. They feel fear and risk less acutely. They rarely think beyond tomorrow. They challenge, they cower. And then they grow up and things look a little more crystal.

It’s important to note that Judy isn’t making a judgement here about teenage sex. She is simply saying, “If you are going to do it, be smart”. The book is not without the pitfalls to sex. There is an unwanted pregnancy, talk of abortion, and an adoption. VD is discussed and soft drugs are used. In trying to cover them all, Judy plays a deft hand. The last thing she wants is to turn kids off and have them run headlong into the dark sexual arts uninformed, rebellious, and careless.

Still, the story of Katherine and Michael is underwhelming. I just kept waiting for them to do it. I wondered what they talked about, if anything, besides sex. Most of their conversations revolved around whether they were or were not going to do it. His aggressive pushiness frightened me and her sullenness depressed me. Was I like that at her age? Probably. I, too, thought I knew everything.

And yet, however young I was when I read it, I never took this book to mean I had permission to go out and have sex. Parents need not be afraid. If anything, this is a great book for girls who might fall in the trap of thinking they have to put out in order to be loved. And I think Judy is definitely not calling it a love story. She drills in the point that you will fall in love several times in your life, not once. I respect Judy’s insight and awareness of the teenage world, even though I didn’t find this book to have a very strong story.

Stray Observations:

  • For some reason my only memory of this book, before I reread it, was that Katherine was a Candy Striper. I’m not sure why that detail stuck with me, as it’s only mentioned once.
  • Attention if you’ve read Judy’s In the Unlikely Event: The Papermill Playhouse first makes an appearance in Forever…!
  • Michael chooses “Ralph” as his penis name. Katherine should have known then that the relationship was doomed.
  • The suicide side-plot threw me… almost seemed like it should have been a separate book.
  • Judy writes strong and caring parents well. Is she modeling them after how she perceives herself?
  • Judy hates the term Young Adult Novel, yet that’s how it’s categorized at my library. Do we need a redefinition on the YA genre?

Sex and the Book: well before Carrie Bradshaw, there was V.C. Andrews.

My fiancé and I just watched “This Film is Not Yet Rated” about the MPAA film ratings industry and its bias towards films featuring lots o’ sex. And as I watched clips of famous films with sex scenes that I, ahem, secretly get a kick out of watching I got to thinking about books and sex. Yes, there is a whole shelf (or shelves) located in most bookstores labeled “Graphic horror” or “Romance” and that’s usually where you can find the naughtier of the bunch. And it’s not policed by any means. You can purchase as many racy novels to your heart’s content and no one’s the wiser. No MPAA ratings here.

But what about your average book that contains a whole love scene or two, seemingly out of nowhere, that completely shocks you? Or maybe it doesn’t shock, per se, but you do shyly put the book back on the shelf with more than a few dog-eared pages.

Now that the “50 Shades of Grey” series has swept the nation- a series (I read the first one) I find full of sex and no real pleasure- sex in books is not much of a secret anymore. But long before “50 Shades”, there was V.C. Andrews. And long before V.C. Andrews there was Anne Rice writing as Anne Rampling. These books are not for the faint of heart or prude of soul.

I wrote a review on my Goodreads blog on a series of books that I considered life changing, at least in the way that I read. One of those books was V.C. Andrew’s “Flowers in the Attic”. For your convenience, here is the review!

Why this is a “Book That Changed Me”:

I think every adolescent girl at some point circa junior high school was initiated into the secret society that was V.C Andrews books. Really her entire canon belongs on this list, but I’ll highlight Flowers in the Attic since it was the series that started it all. I remember receiving my battered and much thumbed-through copy of FITA from a fellow 13 year old who warned me to not let my parents know I was reading it. Instantly I was hooked. I had never read a book so far with so much sex. And not just SEX, but the bad kind of sex that makes you feel icky inside: incest, rape, and child abuse all spun into a sick and twisted brother/sister love story. 

If a book is the train wreck so awful yet you can’t look away, this was it. I read every book in the entire series I could get my hands on (and by the way, these were available in the YOUNG ADULT horror section at most bookstores). After retreating to my room to read for hours at a time and unable to put the books down even at dinnertime, my mother declared I was becoming reclusive and moderately depressed, and she threatened to take the books away. If she even had the slightest clue what the books were about, she definitely should have.

V.C. Andrews and Flowers in the Attic was my first glimpse into the world of illicit sex and sexual fantasies probably no pre-teens and early teens should be exposed to. Until this point, the only sex mentioned in books I’d read were by Judy Blume and those were extremely mild by comparison. I felt forever haunted by these books because of course I could never completely understand at the time how WRONG they were. 

Even to this day I have to admit that I like me a good sex scene in a book (albeit a non-incestuous one), and I have to wonder if it is because of my exposure to V.C. Andrews.

Here is a short list of books I’ve read that contain some of the best sex scenes that have stuck with me. These range from the sexy, the jarring, the oddly funny, or the just plain illicit and juicy variety. And almost all were eye-openers in some form or another. Enjoy!

“Glamorama”- Bret Easton Ellis

“Exit to Eden”- Anne Rampling (Anne Rice)

“The Sleeping Beauty” Series- Anne Rampling

“Delta of Venus”- Anais Nin

“East of Eden”- John Steinbeck

“The 158 Pound Marriage”- John Irving

“The Poisonwood Bible”- Barbara Kingsolver

“Hotel New Hampshire”- John Irving

“Middlesex”- Jeffrey Eugenides

“The Time Travelers Wife”- Audrey Niffenegger

“The Reader”- Bernhard Schlink

“The Magus”- John Fowles

“Portrait in Sepia”- Isabel Allende

“The Lady and the Unicorn”- Tracy Chevalier

“Wifey”- Judy Blume

“The Last Nude”- Ellis Avery

“Atonement”- Ian McEwan

Any to add??

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