Forever … Criticism
by Judy Blume

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Joyce Hart

(Novels for Students)

Hart is a published author and former teacher. In the following essay, she examines what Blume's readers seem to cherish most about the author's novels—her frankness.

Judy Blume's novel Forever … has been criticized and banned for its sexual content. Her fans, however, praise the author's frankness. In many ways, both Blume's critics and fans say the same thing. Blume writes with complete honesty. She is forthright about her characters, presenting them realistically as people who make mistakes and talk about subjects that, in 1975 when the book was published, were not frequently discussed in stories written for teens. This essay explores how Judy Blume presents her material. Just what makes Blume's writing so frank? How does the author make her characters feel so real?

There are little things about Blume's writing that make her characters endearing. Take the opening of chapter three, in which the protagonist, Katherine, talks to her mother about having just met a new boy. While she talks, Katherine's mother is cutting her toenails. This is a rather intimate moment. The setting is the bathroom—a small room not often used as a scene for a conversation between two characters in a novel. Katherine's mother is performing a fairly personal act and an unusual one to be included in fiction. Readers get a glimpse behind the characters' public faces, as if readers were eavesdropping on a private conversation. Now that readers have witnessed this scene, they have the feeling that they know the characters better, although they hardly know anything about them at all. It is only after setting up this scene in the bathroom that the narrator begins to fill in details about her mother and other members of her family. But in giving that one personal peek, a view of the mother that no other "public" character would see of her, readers feel as if they belong, as if they are trusted guests, invited in to share a personal story. Readers immediately feel a part of Blume's fictional family.

Soon after the bathroom scene, still in chapter three, Blume adds a specific detail that is a so true to life that readers cannot ignore the author's honesty. The narrator is discussing how people often park in their cars when on dates. They do so, co-incidentally, in Erica's neighborhood. Erica has told Katherine that she knows people park there to have sex because she is always finding used rubbers that have been thrown out of cars and left on the street or on the sidewalks. The mention of the discarded condoms sets the stage for other events, a foreshadowing of sexual activity as well as the discussion of birth control and prevention of venereal disease.

Like the author, Katherine's parents are open-minded. Although they do not come right out and tell Katherine that she can have sex in the house with her boyfriends, they do tell her that it is unsafe to do so in a car, parked on a street. This frankness may be objectionable to some parents who read Blume's books. But this is just the beginning. Blume's openness has just begun to go to work.

Next comes the beginning of the discussion of sex or, rather, the exposure of the young couple (Katherine and Michael) as they fumble their way toward having sex. Michael fumbles physically as Katherine fumbles with her emotions and the thoughts in her head. The descriptions of Michael's first attempts to arouse Katherine sexually are not erotic. This book was not meant to excite readers but rather to inform them. There are references to Michael's hands and to Katherine's clothing, but these are only briefly mentioned, unveiling the characters' intended actions but not glorifying them. Readers who have had sexual experiences can assume what is happening, but inexperienced readers may need to guess. The passages might be titillating for young readers, but they are not erotic. Blume writes statements, such as "I felt his body against mine," "He reached under my sweater," and "He touched me," which suggest that the two characters are...

(The entire section is 5,768 words.)