One in an occasional series on books with teen topics that are tough to address.
Katherine’s grandmother sees that she is getting serious with her boyfriend Michael and so gives her some information on adolescents and sex. One article asks the teen to consider four questions:
- Is sexual intercourse necessary for the relationship?
- What should you expect from sexual intercourse?
- If you should need help, where will you seek it?
- Have you thought about how this relationship will end?
I like this list that Blume posed all the way back in the 1970s. This book has remained popular and in print all these years—newer editions begin with a note from Blume about how in the age of AIDS, sexually active people must do more than worry about birth control. She includes a helpline and a website for more information.
While it wouldn’t be fair to call Forever an instruction manual (as some critics have suggested—they think that Blume’s purpose is to lure teens into having sexual relationships), it is very honest and pretty graphic.
Kathryn and Michael meet at a party and realize that they are attracted to one another. The first three-fourths of the book are their thoughts and conversations on sex, on their sexual relationship. Are they going to do it? When? Where? How? What goes right and what goes wrong as they explore intimacy? What embarrassing details do they have to deal with? They are so much in love that their relationship is the all in all of their lives. As they are seniors in high school, Kath is ready to select a college where she can continue to be near Michael. Michael gives her a necklace with the word “forever” engraved on it. Nothing can stand in the way of their love.
That is until Kath’s parents think she is becoming far too serious. For me, as someone much older, someone who knows that just falling for someone doesn’t mean forever, this last quarter of the book is actually a lot more interesting than the question of what sexual thing the couple will explore next. And it’s the question Kath believed she’d never have to think about: Have you thought about how this relationship will end? When Kath is upset with her mom because she won’t see Michael for weeks, she accuses her:
“’I thought you’d be on my side.”
“’I am,’ she told me.”
Because Kath’s parents have been through all of this, too, they just want to see what will happen when Kath has some breathing room. They are on her side, but that’s very hard for her to see in the moment.
While the novel is quite realistic in terms of how teens explore a sexual relationship, and where the author is very careful to add the didactic elements about the necessity of birth control, the very hip attitude of the parents and even the grandparents made life just a bit too easy for the lovers. I don’t see most grandparents giving girls instruction on birth control.
Yet, this novel is as edgy and appealing to teens as it was forty years ago. But don’t just read it and take away how the couple becomes sexually intimate. Take away the important question “Have you thought about how this relationship will end?” And if you’re not ready to believe in that end to the relationship, you aren’t ready to start it either. Other relationships, other futures await.