Judy Blume Showed Innocence Isn't 'Forever' Even in an age of sexting and online porn, Blume's 1975 teen novel is still considered controversial. Writer J. Courtney Sullivan says she picked up Forever... for the scandal — but she stayed for the feminist lesson. At its core, the novel is about young women who make responsible choices — and have sex on their own terms.


Judy Blume Showed Innocence Isn't 'Forever'

Judy Blume Showed Innocence Isn't 'Forever'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/127482114/128983356" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
By Judy Blume
Paperback, 208 pages
Simon Pulse
List price: $8.99
Read An Excerpt

In fifth grade, I was a member of an all-girls book club. We met by the tether-ball court during recess and read novels aloud.

Okay, just the dirty parts.

By seventh grade, the book club had disbanded. That was the year I discovered Forever.... I wasn't immediately drawn to the book. The author was Judy Blume.

It was 1993. I didn't know then that Forever... had caused an uproar when it was released in 1975, or that some people called it smut, or that it would go on to be one of the most banned books in America. Had I realized this, I would have read it much sooner.

Once I turned the first page, I was hooked. It was the narrator, Katherine's description of a boy at a party that did it:

"'My name's Fred. I live next door to Sybil. I'm a freshman at Dartmouth.'" Katherine continues: "Unfortunately, he was also a creep."

At the same party, she meets Michael, a fellow high school senior. They fall in love. There is not a hint of dot, dot, dot here. Katherine and Michael talk explicitly about their sexual desires. She goes to Planned Parenthood to get the pill. Which led me to look up the word "speculum." Which led me to realize that my parents must never see this book. The resulting bedroom scenes are as detailed as any clueless adolescent girl could hope for.

J. Courtney Sullivan has written for The New York Times and for the essay anthology The Secret Currency of Love. Her first novel is Commencement. Jerry Bauer hide caption

toggle caption
Jerry Bauer

I read Forever... in a single sitting -- sometime between my first crush and my first kiss. I was under the covers with a flashlight, listening for footsteps on the stairs.

There is real, awkward, friendly intimacy between the main characters in Forever.... I'm 28 now and I know couples my age who can't communicate as well about their hopes, their fears, their families and their foreplay.

What shocks me is that in the age of sexting, Bristol Palin and online porn, Forever... is still considered controversial. At its core, it's about female teenagers who make responsible birth control choices -- who, when they're ready, have sex on their own terms, instead of for the gaze or approval of men. What's so shocking about that? I may have come for the scandal, but I stayed for the feminist lesson.

While rereading Forever... on the subway recently, I could feel the guy beside me skimming over my shoulder. I glanced at him. He gave me a strange look. I hardly cared.

My Guilty Pleasure is edited and produced by Ellen Silva.

Excerpt: 'Forever...'

By Judy Blume
Paperback, 208 pages
Simon Pulse
List price: $8.99

Sybil Davison has a genius I.Q. and has been laid by at least six different guys. She told me herself, the last time she was visiting her cousin, Erica, who is my good friend. Erica says this is because of Sybil's fat problem and her need to feel loved -- the getting laid part, that is. The genius I.Q. is just luck or genes or something. I'm not sure that either explanation is 100 percent right but generally Erica is very good at analyzing people.

I don't know Sybil that well since she lives in Summit and we live in Westfield. Erica and I decided to go to her Ne w Year's party at the last minute for two reasons -- one, because that's when she invited us, and, two, we had noth¬ing better to do.

It turned out to be a fondue party. There were maybe twenty of us sitting on the floor around a low table in Sybil's family room. On the table were a couple of big pots of steaming liquid Swiss cheese and baskets of bread chunks. Each of us had a long two-pronged fork, to spear

the bread, then dip it into the cheese. It tasted pretty good. I had gotten about two bites when this guy said, "You've got some on your chin."

He was on Erica's other side, sort of leaning across her. "You want me to wipe it off?" He held out his napkin.

I couldn't tell if he was putting me on or what. So I told him, "I can wipe my own chin," and I tried to swallow the bread that was still in my mouth.

"I'm Michael Wagner," he said.

"So?" I answered, as Erica shot me a look.

She introduced herself to Michael, then tapped me on the head and said, "This idiot is my friend, Katherine. Don't mind her . . . she's a little strange."

"I noticed," Michael said. He wore glasses, had a lot of reddish-blond hair and a small mole on his left cheek. For some crazy reason I thought about touching it.

I looked away and went back to spearing chunks of bread. The guy on my other side said, "My name's Fred. I live next door to Sybil. I'm a freshman at Dartmouth." Unfortunately he was also a creep.

After a while I tuned him out but he didn't know and kept blabbing away. I was more interested in what Michael was saying to Erica. I wondered where he went to school and hoped it was some place close, like Rutgers. Erica told him that we're from Westfield, that we're seniors, and that we're spending the night at Sybil's. Then Michael introduced her to somebody named Elizabeth and I turned around in time to see him put his arm around this pale dark-haired girl sitting next to him. I pretended to be interested in Fred the Creep after all.

At midnight Sybil flashed the lights on and off and Fred wished me a Happy New Year, then tried to stuff his tongue in my mouth. I kept my lips shut tight; while he was kissing me I was watching Michael kiss Elizabeth. He was much taller than I first thought and thin, but not skinny.

After the party we helped Sybil and her parents clean up and somewhere around 3:00 a.m. we trudged upstairs to bed. Sybil conked out as soon as her head hit the pillow but Erica and I had trouble getting to sleep, maybe because we were on the floor in sleeping bags, or maybe because Sybil was snoring so loud.

Erica whispered, "Michael's a nice guy . . . don't you think so?" "He's much too tall for you," I told her. "You'd only come up to his belly button."

"He might enjoy that."

"Oh, Erica!"

She propped herself up on an elbow and said, 'You like him, don't you?" "Don't be silly . . . we barely met." I rolled over, facing the wall.

'Yeah . . . but I can tell anyway."

"Go to sleep!"

"He asked me for your last name and your phone number."

I turned around. "He did?" "Uh huh . .. but I guess you don't care about that." She buried herself inside her sleeping bag. I gave her a half-hearted kick. Then we both laughed and fell asleep.


Erica and I have been friends since ninth grade. We're a good pair because she is outspoken and uninhibited and I'm not. She says she has to be that way to compensate for her size. She's just four-feet-ten -- so when I said that she would come up to Michael's belly button I wasn't kidding. Everyone in her family is tiny. That's how her great¬-grandfather got their last name. He came to this country from Russia, not speaking a word of English. So when he stepped off the boat and the man in charge asked him his name, he didn't understand. Instead of just calling him Cohen or Goldberg, the way the immigration officers did with so many Jewish refugees, this man sized him up and wrote down Mr. Small. Erica swears if she ever marries she will choose someone huge so that if they decide to have children the kids will at least have a chance to grow to normal size.

Not that being little has hurt anyone in her family. Her mother is Juliette Small, the film critic. You can read her reviews in three national magazines. Because of her Erica is positive she's going to get into Radcliffe, even though her grades aren't that hot. I have a 92 average so I almost died when I saw my college board scores. They were below average. Erica scored much higher than I did. She doesn't fall apart over really important things and I'm always afraid I might. That's another difference between us.


The phone rang at noon the next day and woke me. Sybil jumped up and ran to answer it. When she came back she said, "That was Michael Wagner. He's coming over to get his records." She yawned and flopped back on her bed. Erica was still out cold.

I asked Sybil, "Does he go with that girl, Elizabeth?"

"Not that I know of. . . why, are you interested?"

"No . . .just curious."

"... because I could drop a hint if you want me to . . ."

"No . . . don't."

"I've known him since kindergarten."

"He's in your class?"

"My homeroom."

"Oh ... I thought he was older."

"He's a senior . . . same as us."

"Oh . . ." He seemed older. "Well ... as long as I'm awake I might as well get dressed," I said, heading for the bathroom.

Sybil and I were in the kitchen when the bell rang. I was picking raisins out of a breakfast bun, piling them in the corner of my plate. Sybil leaned against the refrigerator, spooning strawberry yoghurt out of the carton.

She answered the front door and showed Michael into the kitchen. "You remember Katherine, don't you?" she

asked him.

"Sure . . . hi. . ." Michael said.

"Oh . . . hi," I said back.

"Your records are still downstairs," Sybil told him.

"I'll get them for you." "That's okay," Michael said.

"I'll get them myself."

A few seconds later he called, "Who's K.D.?"

"Me," I answered. "Some of those albums are mine." I went downstairs and started going through the pile. "Are yours marked?"


I was making a stack of K.D.S when he said, "Look . . ." and grabbed my wrist. "I came over here because I wanted to see you again."

"Oh, well..." I saw my reflection in his glasses.

"Is that all you can say?"

"What am I supposed to say?"

"Do I have to write the script?"

"Okay . . . I'm glad you came over."

He smiled. "That's better. How about a ride? My car's out front."

"My father's coming to pick me up at 3:00. I have to be back by then."

"That's okay." He was still holding my wrist.

Excerpted from Forever... by Judy Blume. Copyright 1975 by Judy Blume. Excerpted by permission of S&S . All rights reserved.