It’s the last day of Banned Books Week, so let’s talk about this lady, shall we? Because this lady? She’s awesome, and she has something to say about book censorship.
I loved Judy Blume when I was a kid. The first time I read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, I was hooked, and I quickly devoured her other kids books. A few years down the road, and a whole other world of Blume’s books fell into my hands, ones written for a slightly older audience. Blubber, Deenie, and of course my favorite, the be all and end all book for preteen girls, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret*.
*Seriously, has no one ever thought of marketing this gem as a sort of field guide for parents of twelve year old girls? Because that person would make a fortune. Let’s make it happen, people.
And yet Forever fell through the cracks. Most likely because when I was reading Blume’s books, it was a little too mature for me, and by the time I hit an age to appreciate the material, I was too busy sitting in my room listening to Nirvana and suffering through my rent-free jobless life. Teenagers.
When the Rampant Readers decided to celebrate Banned Books Week, I jumped at the chance to read Forever, which is number one with a bullet in Blume’s oeuvre of challenged books (five of her novels have spots on the list of 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books, with Forever sitting at #7 from 1990-1999 and #16 from 2000-2009). And it’s still popular – I had to go buy a copy, as there was a waiting list for the book at my local library. Not bad for a 36 year old YA novel.
As for the book itself, don’t let that modernized cover fool you – this isn’t your typical teen romance. In fact, if you venture into the book expecting a romance, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Forever is not a romance about Katherine and Michael (those two sets of feet you see over there), but the story of Katherine, an eighteen year old girl on the brink of graduating high school and suddenly finding herself in her first serious relationship. And yes, that relationship includes sex, and the people who want it banned would have you believe that’s all it’s about. But I’d argue that the book is really about a young woman navigating her way through her first real relationship and discovering for herself when she is ready to give her heart – and her body – to someone she loves. There are other parts of the novel that helped land it on that challenged list, like some profanity and recreational drug use, but I doubt that most of the book’s protesters got past the first line (“Sybil Davison has a genius I.Q. and has been laid by at least six different guys.”) before the handwringing began.
The book was written for Blume’s own teenage daughter, because she didn’t like that her kid was being told through every romance she read that sex is immediately followed by Very Bad Things. Like death. Or teen pregnancy.
Or finding yourself married at eighteen to a REALLY boring vampire. Yeah, that doesn’t sound familiar at all. She instead wanted to emphasize responsibility and respect in a teenage relationship. So Forever is a refreshing change from the norm, where a teen girl falls in love, has sex, enjoys and takes responsibility for the sex she is having, and nothing bad happens. Of course, that refreshing change is exactly what’s given the book a top spot on the Most Frequently Challenged Books list for the past two decades.
So what makes Judy blume such a rockstar, other than being a kickass author? She is also a tireless anti-censorship activist, working with that National Coalition Against Censorship. Many authors would have backed down under the kind of scrutiny she has faced in her writing career, but Judy Blume fought back. She speaks and writes often on the subject, and in 1999, published Places I Never Meant to Be, a collection of short stories by some of the leading YA authors of the time (which you should all read, by the way… you can borrow my copy). Royalties from the book went to the National Coalition Against Censorship. Just a quick google of her name and censorship will lead you a wealth of interviews, op-ed pieces, and information on her work against book censorship. See? Rockstar. But you don’t have to take my word for it.** Listen to the lady herself. Read a few of her articles, like this fabulous New York Times piece on Harry Potter. And pick up a banned book on your way home. Judy Blume wants you to.
**Bonus Reading Rainbow reference. You’re welcome.