September is all about banned books here at PEN American. We reached out to writers, editors, literary illuminati, and PEN staff to write about the banned books that matter to them most. Today’s piece comes from Lydia Kiesling, staff writer at The Millions.
In the spirit of Banned Books Month, I checked out Forever from my local library, where it sat serenely in Teen Fiction for all the world to see. I read it on a gray morning, and was transported back to the long gray morning of my adolescence, when Judy Blume was my encyclopedia, older sister, and solace.
Here are some of the words in forever: fucking, come, abortion, balls. There is sex on a bathroom floor, a handjob on a ski weekend, a penis named Ralph. In light of these, I suppose it’s unsurprising that parents and non-parents across America have lobbied vigorously to pry this book out of the hands of enthralled youth since 1975.
Then again, I have to think that the crusaders, if they read Forever at all (orAre You There God, It’s Me, Margaret? or Then Again, Maybe I Won’t), weren’t very good readers. Or that they were reading in such a fury of indignation that they were blind to the ideal circumstances of teen sexuality in this novel. Observe the passage above, where Katherine introduces her new boyfriend to her parents—that’s what I call a touching familial tableau. Apart from her lauded talent for writing exactly the books that teens want to read about periods and yearnings and sex, Judy Blume is a master of capturing domestic details.
A supremely secure young lady, a decent young man (Ralph and all), involved parents, strong nuclear family, protected sex after months of earnest discussion, college next fall. This is 2012, and there are teenage girls who have babies in bathroom stalls. Forget banning; Forever—the edition with the foreword on AIDS, of course—should be distributed by P.E. teachers along with the bewildering pamphlets about tampons.
To read more pieces from Banned Books Month, click here.