|I've got the rocking early '90s cover. Love them little flowers.|
This book was a first time read for me. (How'd I miss it? I'm wondering that, too...)
Judy Blume wrote Forever after her daughter asked her for a book about teenagers that have sex without anyone dying afterward. (The writers of 7th Heaven should have taken note of this reality, too.) And what kind of awesome lady is Judy? She totally wrote her daughter a book.
The topic of sexsexsex is what gets this book thrown in the burn pile. Because people don't have, y'know, sex. We all produce asexually. And teenagers definitely don't have sex. Such an accusation is ludicrous!
Katherine, your normal seventeen-year-old girl, meets Michael at her friend's cousin's New Year's Eve party. Michael is with another girl, but that doesn't stop Katherine from thinking that he is a stud.
The new relationship is complicated by all the things that come along with the senior year of high school. Plus, Katherine and Michael live in different towns so they can only see each other on weekends. And they've both already applied to colleges out-of-state. And Katherine's parents don't want her to settle so young. Which is a fair point. The statistics just aren't on the side of the teenage romances.
But still, Michael shows up every weekend. The couple hang out in the den a lot. Which is code for make-out-on-the-latch-hooked-lion-rug. Hang-out-in-the-den is apparently what kids did in the days before watching-a-movie-in-the-basement. And Katherine's parents are totally cool/oblivious/cool-but-pretending-to-be-oblivious about this.
And Michael introduces Katherine to the infamous Ralph. His penis. Because when a guy is thinking of a logical name for his penis, Ralph obviously comes to mind first. (Second choice: Princess Sophia.) (And I asked my boyfriend if his penis had a name. Either he's lying to me about it or it really never occurred to him.) Michael kind of does this weird thing about talking about Ralph like Ralph is an actual person. But Ralph is a penis. I feel like Michael could totally turn into some sort of Norman Bates-esque serial killer that truly believes that Ralph is a person.
Most of the Michael-Katherine relationship focuses on the physical aspect of the relationship. As does the book. Katherine goes with Michael, his sister, and his brother-in-law on a ski trip to Vermont. Every night Michael sneaks into Katherine's room to sleep. And Katherine is really excited that Michael gets to see her in her nightgown. Sexy.
Michael definitely wants to have sex with Katherine. He had sex with a random girl on the beach in Maine last summer, so why shouldn't Katherine immediately want to get it on? Oh, yeah, this random girl on the beach gave Michael the syphilis. Or gonorrhea. I don't remember which. I might just be a prude but I feel like a dude that has a random hook-up with some girl from the beach that results in a dose of penicillin is a red flag. I know it's the '70s, but who really just has random sex on the beach? Without a condom?
Finally, Katherine and Michael have sex. On Michael's sister's bedroom floor. Katherine is on my side on this issue. It's a totally awkward place to get it on. And it could go wrong in so many ways. (Voice of experience on this topic. Err...)
Shortly thereafter, Katherine goes to Planned Parenthood and gets birth control. Katherine's grandmother is extremely involved in reproductive rights (it's the 70's!), but Katherine still doesn't feel comfortable talking to her grandmommy about it. Which is a pretty realistic assessment. Not the grandma championing Planned Parenthood part, but the not wanting to talk about it part.
Erica, Katherine's best friend, is dating Michael's friend Artie. It's fairly certain that Artie is gay, and Erica is determined to help him find out by having sex with him. And they "work on it." But nothing ever really happens. And Artie ends up attempting suicide. Which is kind of a wake-up call for everyone. That maybe Artie should be allowed to be happy and study drama instead of being forced into a ho-hum university. That whole story line is really just a footnote in the whole Michael-Katherine situation, though. Still important. Ish.
Katherine scores a job as a tennis instructor at a summer camp. Which is completely devastating because Michael has a job in a lumber yard in North Carolina. And the two were going to be separated by school soon. Uh-oh, spaghetti-o! The whole summer, Katherine misses out on the things that the other counselors are doing. She's too busy writing letters to Michael. Except that there's her fellow tennis instructor. Who is a mega hottie. There's all sorts of sexual tension, but Katherine's all, 'No, no, no. Michael. But tennis dude is sex on legs! Rawr!'
Then, when Katherine's grandfather passes away, Michael comes to visit. And Katherine gets really bitchy really quick. Which really just means that she's honest. There is that sex on legs dude. But really, who breaks up with a guy right after he flies up to see you? (Don't ever try to get me out of my relationship. I'll be that girl that delays it for six years because the timing is never "right.")
And so, Katherine and Michael both go off to school. Single and horny. And not dead from all that sex they had. And not pregnant. And without any kind of STI that eats their genitalia and souls at the same time.
- When this book was published, my mom would have been Katherine-aged. But I doubt she read Judy Blume. Something tells me she just wasn't the type of girl to send out college applications or be uptight about her friends smoking a little herb. I'm no fool!
- I'm a little irritated by the constant use of ellipsis points...Because really...I understand that people pause in conversation...but that often?
- Katherine has an orgasm her second time having sex. Really? Either Judy is trying to sugar coat it for us, or she (and Katherine) needs to educate women everywhere.
- What. the. hell. Michael and Erica are projectile vomiting drunk high schoolers at the bar. And no one is alarmed by this. Do you know what it's like to read about 18-year-olds that can legally sit in a bar after 9pm when your 21st birthday is still forty-seven days away? I'll tell you--It hurts my soul that I have to be a secret squirrel and ration my supplies while these fictional children are getting shit-faced in public while I just want to be a nice, responsible social drinker. My soul!
- I don't understand how Katherine was thinking about hooking about with the dude at camp. I could never be a cheater. I felt guilty for her even thinking about it.
- The end of the book has a little note about how Katherine and Michael didn't have to deal with HIV risk, but teens now do. I like that that's included. They didn't update the book to have a PSA about the importance of a condom. (I'm looking at you, Michael! Ralph didn't get an STI on his own!) But it's just note rather than a Very Special Edition of the book where Michael gives Katherine HIV and then she dies! Because she had sex! Nooo! Not the sex monster!
Mini-Analysis which is really just an excuse for me to talk about myself:
This book kind of, uh, hit close to home for me. Which is totally code for "Shit's about to get personal in here. So feel free to check out right now, if you are so obliged."
My boyfriend and I aren't that much older than Katherine and Michael. We're only three years older.
It really surprised me, though, how much more mature we are. While we're not exactly to the point of putting a ring on it and punching out kids, we are more realistic about the future (and have been) than Michael and Katherine are. None of that "forever" crap. If it happens, it happens. As long as we're happy, we'll keep doin' what we're doin'. And, as we're aware, statistics are against it. Statistically, it's just not meant to happen.
Were we that naive three years ago? I'll go with no. Mainly because Boyfriend was under the impression that we were just having a summer fling. (Sucker.) But, it would be immature of me to suggest that we weren't naive. After the first time I met him for real, I definitely had these warm and fuzzy and incredibly comfortable feelings. It just felt right and calm and chill and I regretted that I had rejected meeting him for the last six months because that was six months that I missed out on. And those are not feelings that I, a pessimistic realist, am not completely comfortable with.
Katherine and Michael's relationship makes me question when Boyfriend and I made the transition from horny teenagers constantly mauling each other to semi-adults that are currently developing a plan of attack for graduate school. (Seriously. How boring did we just get? And old!) And while we do old-people stuff (grocery shopping! laundry! waking up early!), it's still feels awesome. Was the problem between Katherine and Michael just that they didn't anticipate the changes they would be experiencing? That their relationship would cool and settle and dynamics would shift? Regardless, it is better that they ended it because I really feel that they would always pine for how things were before rather than how they are now.
And cue Katy Perry.
But let's be honest. I'm not exactly the authority on teenage relationships. I've had exactly one relationship. My friends never had "normal" teenage relationships. In high school, my friends were polar opposites on the sexy-time-experience spectrum. No offense to anybody, but by graduation they'd either been with one guy or upwards of forty people. No one was at the healthy in-between that Katherine and Michael are at. In my life, I've never had a good example of a healthy relationship. (Hi, I'm Alison. And I'm my own step-sister. And my own step-cousin. Three times over. Actually, my own step-adopted cousin. Good times.) I don't have quality examples to draw from, and I know that that effects how I am and how I treat my own relationship.
Judy Blume freaking rocks at giving us books that we can relate to. And books that make us feel completely normal. (Or like complete idiots for not loving our periods. Whatever.) But while I related to the frantically-in-love feeling that Katherine and Michael have, I didn't relate to the casualness of the relationship. (Which I realize is completely contradictory to what I said previously. How are Michael and Katherine so completely serious about the longevity of the relationship but still so completely calm when it ends? And while they weren't completely calm, I can imagine myself being downright inconsolable if my relationship were to end like that. Inconsolable.)
Maybe it's because I'm from a super-conservative area where everyone seems to be married before the age of twenty-two. (I'm going to be a spinster!) Or maybe I'm just in a relationship that is less about having sex and more about hanging out with someone that is my best friend first and my lover second. Or maybe it's the reasons I listed two paragraphs before. I don't understand how you can enter into a relationship and tell each other it will last "forever" without that actually happening. I only know how to be in a relationship that I fully expect to crash and burn at any time while still hoping that it lasts a little longer than that. I know what I know.
Basically, what I'm trying to express in a completely inarticulate way is that Katherine and Michael have a very paradoxical relationship. They're completely committed to being together forever despite that all the variables that are testing their relationship suggest otherwise. At the same time, they both know when the relationship is over and are able to accept that. And I have the complete opposite reality. I don't think relationships last forever. They just don't. But at the same time, I would have a hard time facing the reality that maybe it were time for my relationship to end.
Does that make sense?
And yeah. Plan for this to be edited as I'm able to sort out exactly what is that I mean. Because, I'm not really sure what I mean. This time last year, I was a teenager. So really, I don't have enough experience or perspective to have a firm grasp on what I want to express here.