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Forever Revisited

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

While on a school mountain trip in 1983, I learned that my Judy Blume library was short one book; Forever. I was twelve years old when I discovered this glaring omission and immediately set out to rectify it.

Reading a borrowed copy on my bunk during rest hour, I was interrupted by a parent chaperone, who was aghast that I was reading such a scandalous book.

Chaperone: I am going to have to take that book from you.
FrumeSarah: Why? It’s Judy Blume.
Chaperone: That may be, but I cannot imagine that your parents would approve.
FS: Do you even know my parents?
Chaperone: Well…er…no. But that makes no matter. This just isn’t an appropriate book for a young lady to be reading.
FS: It so happens that my parents allow me to make my own reading selections. They don’t believe in literary censorship.

It was true. My parents really didn’t limit my reading and made their entire library available to me. There were many books I read that contained material that simply went right over my head. They answered any questions I had though more often than not, I wasn’t even aware that I had missed anything. Though I didn’t know it at the time, Forever was a highly controversial book and the chaperone was not alone in her disapproval. Her reaction, however, deepened my resolve to read it regardless of the consequences.

I honestly cannot recall how the book ended up back in possession. Did I mention that this mountain retreat was for the “Good Citizen” award winners for that trimester? So it seems unlikely, and highly uncharacteristic, that I would have taken it from among the chaperone’s belongings.

What I do recall is that I had never read anything like it. The descriptive language was so palpable that I felt as if I was in the room with the characters. Though inexperienced, I could relate to the breathless feeling that comes with the blush of first love.

I only read it once. As I grew older, there didn’t seem a need to revisit the book. An essay on by author J. Courtney Sullivan leads me to believe that it is worth a revisit.

What about you? Was there some book that you were kept from reading? Should certain books be kept from the curious minds of children?

21 Comments leave one →
  1. Wednesday, 4 August 2010 6:14 am

    When I was in third grade my teacher objected to “These Happy Golden Years” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She wouldn’t let me check it out of the school library. I have no idea why – because they got married? because she didn’t like it? because she didn’t like me? My mother, a librarian, had told the librarians at the public library that I could check out anything I wanted. She felt that if I understood it, it was fine for me to read it and if I didn’t understand it, it wouldn’t harm me. As I recall, I got the book from the public library and brought it to school to read during “free reading” time.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Wednesday, 4 August 2010 7:13 am

      Smart mama.

      I am racking my brains to come up with an objection to THGY. Nope, nothing. Strange…

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Wednesday, 4 August 2010 7:37 am

    I couldn’t read anything by Stephen King until I was 16 and I wasn’t allowed to read “Helter Skelter” until I reached 16. Unfortunately, I DID read “Helter Skelter” when I was 13 and a friend brought her Dad’s copy to school. We took turns taking it home. It scared me so bad that I slept with a knife under my pillow and some kind of “trap” I fashioned that would wake me up if anyone tried to come through the window.
    I remember for my 16th birthday, I received the book, “Carrie.” I still have the copy my folks got me and I remember how cool I felt reading it!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Wednesday, 4 August 2010 10:20 pm

      Wow. Now that is a genre I haven’t touched. In fact, the only Stephen King book I’ve ever read is On Writing. I’m way older than 16 and I have no desire.

  3. Wednesday, 4 August 2010 10:19 am

    Our counselors read us Forever, a chapter at a time, during cabin time. I think I was 12 that summer as well. Scandalous! (Not really.)

    I can’t think of anything I specifically wasn’t allowed to read, but I vividly remember finding and secretly reading Peyton Place, which I found tucked away on my parents’ bookshelf.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Wednesday, 4 August 2010 10:21 pm

      Are you kidding? I can’t believe they read it to you. Wow.

    • Thursday, 5 August 2010 7:01 am

      Actually, it is a little scandalous that counselors read a book about consensual sex between 18 year old to a bunch of 12 year olds. It is one thing for a parent to decide that her child is old enough to read it; it’s another thing for a seventeen year old (I’m guessing) to decide that a gaggle of sixth graders are old enough to hear it.

  4. Wednesday, 4 August 2010 11:41 am

    *gasp* there’s a judy blume book that i haven’t read? must. read. now! the only incident that’s popping into my head is ap english. our scandalous teacher let us read the scarlet letter, huck fin and a few other no-nos. best. teacher. ever. great post and equally great reminder of what *to* do for our children!!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Wednesday, 4 August 2010 10:25 pm

      Really? I’m thinking that reading it after one’s sexual awakening is going to be a different experience than reading it prior. Let me know what you think.

      ARGH — The Scarlet Letter? That was scandalous? There was nothing even racy going on. At least not by our standards.

      Come to think of it, I should probably reread this one as well. It’s been a long time.

  5. Wednesday, 4 August 2010 12:20 pm

    “It so happens that my parents allow me to make my own reading selections. They don’t believe in literary censorship.” – I can just HEAR you saying this at age 12. Hilarious.

    I can’t think of something that I was ever KEPT from reading but I do remember reading the North and South trilogy by John Jakes in either middle or high school and thinking….if my parents knew how much sex was in this, they’d probably be shocked that I’m reading it! Same with Michner’s Hawaii, which I read in 8th grade, I believe. I think that people just didn’t pay attention to what I was reading, which is…both good and bad!

    I think I must revisit Forever too. I heard that piece on the radio also and thought…hmm…I should read it again. I think you and I must share a brain 🙂

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Wednesday, 4 August 2010 10:37 pm

      That was how I felt when I read The Thorn Birds 🙂

      We definitely share something…

  6. Rachael permalink
    Wednesday, 4 August 2010 12:29 pm

    This book, and in fact all of Judy Blume’s books, changed my life. I remember my mom taking one away – “Then Again Maybe I Won’t”, but I just went to the library and checked out another copy and hid it. Though I did have to look up a lot of terms particular to what happens to teenage boys at night – which ended up confusing me even more. A big fan of not censoring books. In fact, one of my first purchases when I went to college was a book called “100 Banned Books” by Nicholas J. Karolides, and started to read every one that was banned. We now celebrate Banned Book month buy adding a controversial book to our home library.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Wednesday, 4 August 2010 10:40 pm

      Same here. I don’t know if I could pick just one favourite because I was affected by each one. I definitely related less to Then Again Maybe I Won’t than her others. But I remember thinking it was cool to get a boy’s perspective.

      I love your tradition of filling your library with banned books. Think I might need to adopt it.

  7. Lael permalink
    Wednesday, 4 August 2010 3:22 pm

    Showing my age here, but I remember being a bookseller at Waldenbooks in the late 1970’s and reading articles pro and con about this book. And I remember we couldn’t keep it in stock:) I, too, grew up in a home of uncensored reading. In elementary school we had Tab and Scholastic Books, where we’d receive their catalog, check off what we wanted and got the money from our parents to pay our teacher. I don’t remember ever being questioned about a purchase, because I always read in the open and discussed any questions with my folks, who were great readers. At 12, I read On the Beach and Journal of the Plague Year, books probably not quite appropriate for my intellectual level. But hey, any book that graphically describes boils and the ravages of the plague on the human body will get a 12 year old’s attention! And that I went on to major in Medieval History in college means something took:)

    • Lael permalink
      Wednesday, 4 August 2010 3:37 pm

      Sorry, I made that last post all about me and didn’t really answer your question! Since I grew up in a home of self-educated readers, I don’t ever remember being questioned about what I wanted to read, but I also had a good enough relationship with my parents that anything I read that was weird, uncomfortable or confusing to me could easily be shared with them. Most of my first jobs were in bookstores and you know me well enough to know that I would rather read than almost anything else, so when I hear that some parents or schools or organizations want to keep books from children ‘for their own good,’ I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I do know that if a child has a graphic mind and can ‘see’ what they are reading (which is why I loved to read from the beginning), some topics or scenes might be harmful if the child doesn’t have the appropriate explanation for them. If the parents are the type that can’t talk to their kids easily about subjects such as sexuality, there might be a problem in how the child assimilates that information, especially if it’s incorrect. On the other hand, keeping a book from a child sets a bad precedent about knowledge and learning. They should be encouraged in the skills of conversation, questioning and asking for clarification when they are confused or if they find something interesting and want to share. These are good skills to have as an adult. I just know that banning books gives me the willies….

      • Frume Sarah permalink*
        Wednesday, 4 August 2010 10:51 pm

        Me too.

        As you know, I come from a family of voracious readers. My home, my grandparents’ home, my tante’s home — all filled with books. Rooms devoted to shelves and shelves of books. If we couldn’t find something to read, recommendations were sure to come our way. I saw all of the adults in my life reading and talking about the books they were reading.

        It made such an impression.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Wednesday, 4 August 2010 10:45 pm

      I remember those catalogs. I think the freedom that your parents gave you definitely impacted your literary loves.

  8. Wednesday, 4 August 2010 8:24 pm

    I’m even older…
    I was in the 6th grade around the Eichmann Trial and wanted to read Rise and fall of the Third Reich, but the Hebrew School librarian recommended Minister of Death by Quenton Renolds, which I chose for an “oral book report” in school. The teacher gave me a zero: “Children in the 6th grade don’t read books by Quenton Renolds; you must be lying!” Only decades later did I mention it to my parents. Things were different then.
    When my eldest was about the same age, the local librarian had strict rules about the kids only taking from the “right grade book shelves.” My daughter had always read books for much older kids and was forced to stay up late and go to adult hours in the library as to not “corrupt” other children.

  9. Frume Sarah permalink*
    Wednesday, 4 August 2010 10:57 pm

    It’s amazing what lack of imagination some teachers have. I received a failing grade on a report in 5th grade for using vocabulary that the teacher felt was proof that I had plaguriazed the information. After all, she reasoned, what 11 year old talks that way.

    Those ages are for classification purposes and to be used as guidelines. My goodness. “Corrupt” other children? Sheesh.

  10. Lori G permalink
    Saturday, 7 August 2010 10:36 pm

    I certainly remember reading Forever. I probably read it 10 times. It was well discussed at the JCC with my group of 12 and 13 year old friends. We definitely knew which pages had the “good” parts. I think the protagonist, Katherine, was a very healthy role model. Re-reading the excerpt, it seems much more shocking today – maybe because now I am the parent of a 17 year old. Also, today our kids have to worry about AIDS, herpes, and HPV. On the other hand, I would not and do not censor my kids, nor was I ever censored. My 14 year old read his way through John Irving this year, and if there was ever an author to write about weird sex… I’d rather have my kids read sex scenes than about violence. And a book that depicts sex as consensual and responsible is quite worthwhile. Growing up, I read everything I could get my hands on. Reading about sex was much safer than engaging in it- which is what my friends did. Yet, I was the educated one because I read. I remember snagging my parents copy of “all you ever wanted to know about sex, but were afraid to ask.”
    The only time we had a censorship experience was when my now 17 year old son was in second grade. His teacher wouldn’t let him check out the books he wanted from the library because she was afraid they were too long and he wouldn’t be able to finish them in a week. What an idiot she was. Thanks for a thought provoking blog.

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