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Forever by Judy Blume

September 5, 2018

FRI shall never be able to look anyone called Ralph in the eye again.

Until 1975, when Forever was published, sexually active teens in stories ended up pregnant, disease-ridden, married to miscreant (of course unhappily), some have grisly, illegal abortions, and in extreme cases, dead from a bad delivery or disease.  (And of course, the girl suffered the consequences and didn’t even want sex in the first place.) Forever essentially stems from the idea that you can be responsible and educated with your sex life, and both males and females have hormones. And sure, there are consequences to sex, but sometimes they’re just matters of the heart.

Nowadays, sex permeates our culture to the point where we barely notice it. Forever is revolutionary for its time. It tries to educate teens about sex without being preachy. I’m sure people have said that there aren’t any consequences to sex in the book, but it’s not true. Although Katherine doesn’t have any STDs or pregnancy, others in the book do. And, sometimes, you can just end up with a couple broken hearts and hurt friendships. Life moves on and you learn from it.

Because of the novel’s content it has been the frequent target of censorship and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000 at number seven.

Katherine, in the middle of her senior year in high school, finds herself strongly attracted to Michael, a boy she meets at a New Year’s party. As their relationship unfolds, the issue of sex comes up more as an emotional and health issue than as a moral one. Both of them are aware that physical intimacy is both common and complicated.

Their relationship progresses slowly as they begin to go on dates and trips together; they are accompanied on various meetings by Katherine’s friend, Erica, who has known Katherine since the 9th grade and believes that sex is a physical act and not very romantic, and believes Katherine should “just get it out of the way.” Erica and Katherine are also joined by Michael’s friend Artie, who got together with Erica; they split up after he told her he was going to kill himself, but he didn’t harm himself. He is a depressed teenager who doesn’t know what to do with his life. He shows his depression when he attempts to hang himself from his shower curtain rod but fails and gets himself hospitalized for the rest of the novel.

Katherine and Michael go on a skiing trip, where they plan to have sex, but Katherine has her period, and they are disappointed. Michael teaches Katherine how to hold his penis (nicknamed “Ralph”) and how to rub it correctly. When Katherine and Michael do have sex on Michael’s sister’s living room floor in her apartment, they are sure it seals a love that will be “forever”. Michael buys Katherine a necklace for her birthday that says both of their names on it and it also says “Forever”. However, separated for the summer by work that takes them to two different states, Katherine finds herself aware of the limitations of the relationship and is ultimately attracted to a tennis instructor, Theo, who is older than Michael. Theo calls her Kat, because everyone else is doing it, even though she is highly irritated with the nickname. She shares a kiss with him, and takes responsibility for breaking the news to Michael when he comes on a surprise visit. Michael realizes she has found someone else, and Katherine gives him back the forever necklace before he took off. She realizes that she could get over it. The book ends with Katherine’s mother giving her a message that Theo called for her.

FR 2Characters

Major

Katherine Danziger Protagonist of the book. Katherine is almost 18, and turns 18 in the book, and is a senior in high school who is getting ready for college. When she meets Michael, she falls in love with him, and starts a relationship with him. One of the novel’s central plotlines is her decision to lose her virginity to him as well as the sexual relationship they share together. After she split off with Michael she started one with Theo.

Michael Wagner The boy who Katherine meets and with whom Katherine falls in love. He is a senior at another high school nearby. They meet at a New year’s Eve Party, and their relationship develops from there. Michael wanted to make love to Katherine, but tried not to pressure her into it too much and respected her for not being ready, until she was ready to let go of her virginity. He nicknamed his penis “Ralph.” They manage to hold a relationship together for a couple of months before it fell apart.

Erica Small Katherine’s best friend, who provides her with emotional support owing to Erica’s ability to see situations from a realistic point of view. She sees sex as a physical act, not a romantic one, unlike Katherine, and just wanted her to get over with it.

Artie Lewin A boy who is friends with Katherine and Michael. He is not very confident about himself and questions his sexuality and wonders if he is gay. Erica breaks up with him at a party after he scared her by saying he will commit suicide, and two days later he attempts to, resulting in him not graduating from High School and his hospitalization for the rest of the book.

Minor

Ralph

Sybil Davison Katherine’s friend (and Erica’s cousin) who later gets pregnant when having loveless intercourse because she wanted to have experience in giving birth. She didn’t tell her parents because she knew they would have wanted her to have an abortion, and put the baby up for adoption, hoping that they would name her baby girl Jennifer.

Jamie Danziger Katherine’s little sister by 5 years. She is proficient in music, art, and cooking. She is in the seventh grade and looks a lot like Katherine. She used to be jealous of Jamie for her artistic ability, but it passed.

Roger Danziger Katherine’s father, a pharmacist who owns two drug stores.

Diana Danziger (née Gross) Katherine’s mother, a librarian. She gives Katherine sexual advice, and says that losing your virginity is a serious thing.

Hallie Gross Katherine’s maternal grandmother, a lawyer and progressive liberal.

Ivan Gross Katherine’s maternal grandfather, who had previously had a stroke (he had to walk with a cane and sometimes at a loss for words), and would have another one later in the book which would claim his life.

Theo An older boy who Katherine inadvertently falls for while working at a camp, which spells the end of her and Michael.

David A boy Jamie falls in love with, and started a relationship with.

Criticism and controversy

Forever… was banned from many schools due to its detailed depictions of sexual intercourse, the implications of homosexuality from Artie, and because the protagonist, Katherine, uses birth control. Criticism of the novel often comes from religious groups and pro-abstinence groups who consider the use of ‘the pill’ unsuitable.

Death

At the beginning of the story, Katherine tells Michael about why she volunteers at the Overlook Hospital geriatric ward. She does it because she didn’t get to know her father’s parents before they died because she was afraid of them and didn’t like visiting them. When her mother’s father got sick, she already loved him and realized that she missed out on the same type of relationship with her father’s parents. She realized that there was nothing to fear and that she wanted to make older people feel better before they died.

Artie also has issues with death. His own inability to discover his identity and go to follow his passion lead him to attempt suicide. His attempt is foreshadowed by his gloomy forecast of horror and death for everyone before the end

Point of View

“Forever…” is told from a first-person limited viewpoint by Katherine Danziger, the heroine. Katherine Danziger is eighteen years old, and this first-person technique works to make the novel feel almost like a diary. Katherine’s first-person account of her relationship with Michael, her family and her friends, allows the reader to see inside the head of a typical eighteen-year-old girl as she struggles to find her own identity and establish her place in the world. Through this first-person narrative, Blum allows the reader the chance to understand just how powerful first love is and to understand how it does always seem as if it will last forever. The closeness and mutual education of Michael and Katherine also allows the reader to understand how, in a way, first love does last forever. The reader understands that Katherine will never forget her time with Michael.

FR 3Quotations:

Erica lives on the hill. She’s always finding used rubbers in the street. I can’t understand how someone could just throw a thing like that out a car window and forget about it.

My mother was very close to Grandpa while she was growing up and now when they’re together I can see how painful it is for her to watch him. But my grandmother treats him the same as always, like there’s nothing wrong at all.

It’s true that we are more open that our parents but that just means we accept sex and talk about it. It doesn’t mean we are all jumping into bed together.

I could have said it back to him right away. I was thinking it all along. I was thinking, I love you, Michael. But can you really love someone you’ve seen just nineteen times

Sybil Davison has a genius I.Q. and has been laid by at least six different guys. She told me herself, the last time she was visiting her cousin, Erica, who is my good friend. Erica says this is because of Sybil’s fat problem and her need to feel loved–the getting laid part, that is. The genius I.Q. is just luck or genes or something. I’m not sure that either explanation is 100 percent right but generally Erica is very good at analyzing people. I don’t know Sybil that well since she lives in Summit and we live in Westfield. Erica and I decided to go to her New Year’s party at the last minute for two reasons–one, because that’s when she invited us, and, two, we had nothing better to do. It turned out to be a fondue party. There were maybe twenty of us sitting on the floor around a low table in Sybil’s family room. On the table were a couple of big pots of steaming liquid Swiss cheese and baskets of bread chunks. Each of us had a long two-pronged fork, to spear the bread, then dip it into the cheese. It tasted pretty good. I had gotten about two bites when this guy said, “You’ve got some on your chin.” He was on Erica’s other side, sort of leaning across her. “You want me to wipe it off?” He held out his napkin. I couldn’t tell if he was putting me on or what. So I told him, “I can wipe my own chin,” and I tried to swallow the bread that was still in my mouth. “I’m Michael Wagner,” he said. “So?” I answered, as Erica shot me a look. She introduced herself to Michael, then tapped me on the head and said, “This idiot is my friend, Katherine. Don’t mind her . . . she’s a little strange.” “I noticed,” Michael said. He wore glasses, had a lot of reddish-blond hair and a small mole on his left cheek. For some crazy reason I thought about touching it. I looked away and went back to spearing chunks of bread. The guy on my other side said, “My name’s Fred. I live next door to Sybil. I’m a freshman at Dartmouth.” Unfortunately he was also a creep. After a while I tuned him out but he didn’t know and kept blabbing away. I was more interested in what Michael was saying to Erica. I wondered where he went to school and hoped it was some place close, like Rutgers. Erica told him that we’re from Westfield, that we’re seniors, and that we’re spending the night at Sybil’s. Then Michael introduced her to somebody named Elizabeth and I turned around in time to see him put his arm around this pale dark-haired girl sitting next to him. I pretended to be interested in Fred the Creep after all. At midnight Sybil flashed the lights on and off and Fred wished me a Happy New Year, then tried to stuff his tongue in my mouth. I kept my lips shut tight; while he was kissing me I was watching Michael kiss Elizabeth. He was much taller than I first thought and thin, but not skinny. After the party we helped Sybil and her parents clean up and somewhere around 3:00 a.m. we trudged upstairs to bed. Sybil conked out as soon as her head hit the pillow but Erica and I had trouble getting to sleep, maybe because we were on the floor in sleeping bags, or maybe because Sybil was snoring so loud. Erica whispered, “Michael’s a nice guy . . . don’t you think so?” “He’s much too tall for you,” I told her. “You’d only come up to his belly button.” “He might enjoy that.” “Oh, Erica!” She propped herself up on an elbow and said, “You like him, don’t you?” “Don’t be silly . . . we barely met.” I rolled over, facing the wall. “Yeah . . . but I can tell anyway.” “Go to sleep!” “He asked me for your last name and your phone number.” I turned around. “He did?” “Uh huh . . . but I guess you don’t care about that.” She buried herself inside her sleeping bag. I gave her a half-hearted kick. Then we both laughed and fell asleep. Erica and I have been friends since ninth grade. We’re a good pair because she is outspoken and uninhibited and I’m not. She says she has to be that way to compensate for her size. She’s just four-feet-ten–so when I said that she would come up to Michael’s belly button I wasn’t kidding. Everyone in her family is tiny. That’s how her great-grandfather got their last name. He came to this country from Russia, not speaking a word of English. So when he stepped off the boat and the man in charge asked him his name, he didn’t understand. Instead of just calling him Cohen or Goldberg, the way the immigration officers did with so many Jewish refugees, this man sized him up and wrote down Mr. Small. Erica swears if she ever marries she will choose someone huge so that if they decide to have children the kids will at least have a chance to grow to normal size. Not that being little has hurt anyone in her family. Her mother is Juliette Small, the film critic. You can read her reviews in three national magazines. Because of her Erica is positive she’s going to get into Radcliffe, even though her grades aren’t that hot. I have a 92 average so I almost died when I saw my college board scores. They were below average. Erica scored much higher than I did. She doesn’t fall apart over really important things and I’m always afraid I might. That’s another difference between us. The phone rang at noon the next day and woke me. Sybil jumped up and ran to answer it. When she came back she said, “That was Michael Wagner. He’s coming over to get his records.” She yawned and flopped back on her bed. Erica was still out cold. I asked Sybil, “Does he go with that girl, Elizabeth?” “Not that I know of . . . why, are you interested?” “No . . . just curious.” “. . . because I could drop a hint if you want me to . . .” “No . . . don’t.” “I’ve known him since kindergarten.” “He’s in your class?” “My homeroom.” “Oh . . . I thought he was older.” “He’s a senior . . . same as us.” “Oh . . .” He seemed older. “Well . . . as long as I’m awake I might as well get dressed,” I said, heading for the bathroom. Sybil and I were in the kitchen when the bell rang. I was picking raisins out of a breakfast bun, piling them in the corner of my plate. Sybil leaned against the refrigerator, spooning strawberry yoghurt out of the carton. She answered the front door and showed Michael into the kitchen. “You remember Katherine, don’t you?” she asked him. “Sure . . . hi . . .” Michael said. “Oh . . . hi,” I said back. “Your records are still downstairs,” Sybil told him. “I’ll get them for you.” “That’s okay,” Michael said. “I’ll get them myself.” A few seconds later he called, “Who’s K.D.?” “Me,” I answered. “Some of those albums are mine.” I went downstairs and started going through the pile. “Are yours marked?” “No.” I was making a stack of K.D.s when he said, “Look . . .” and grabbed my wrist. “I came over here because I wanted to see you again.” “Oh, well . . .” I saw my reflection in his glasses. “Is that all you can say?” “What am I supposed to say?” “Do I have to write the script?” “Okay . . . I’m glad you came over.” He smiled. “That’s better. How about a ride? My car’s out front.” “My father’s coming to pick me up at 3:00. I have to be back by then.” “That’s okay.” He was still holding my wrist

“Finally he kissed me. It was a nice kiss, warm but not sloppy. Before he let me out at Sybil’s house, Michael stopped the car and kissed me again. ‘You’re delicious,’ he said.”

“They have been known to prey on couples who are out parking.”

“Just be careful… that’s my only advice.”

“Of what?”

“Pregnancy.”

“Grandma!”

“And venereal disease.”

“I’m glad those days are over”

“I can feel how ready you are,” says Michael, with his hand down Katherine’s pants, and she shuts that shit down by telling him she’s not “mentally ready”.

Michael replies with, “if I didn’t know any better I’d think you were a tease.”

“Fathers have complexes about little girls,” says Katherine’s best friend, Erica, when Katherine’s father doesn’t want her to go away with Michael. “It has to do with breaking your cherry.”

 

“He rolled over on top of me and we moved together again and again and it felt so good I didn’t ever want to stop until I came.”

“Michael moaned and I felt him come – a pulsating feeling, a throbbing – like the books said – then wetness.”

“Katherine, I’d like you to meet Ralph… Ralph, this is Katherine.”

“You did just fine… Ralph liked it a lot.”

“We can help Ralph.”

“Ralph won’t fail me twice.”

“That’s not a bad word…hate and war are bad words, but fuck isn’t.”
“Like my mother said, you can’t go back to holding hands”
“I love you, Michael Wagner.”

“Forever?” he asked.

“Forever,” I said.”
“Suddenly question number four popped into my mind. Have you thought about how this relationship will end?”
“I made promises to you that I’m not sure I can keep. None of it has anything to do with you. It’s just that I don’t know what to do now. You must be thinking what a rotten person I am. Well, believe me, I’m thinking the same thing. I don’t know how this happened or why. Maybe I can get over it. Do you think you can wait—because I don’t want you to stop loving me. I keep remembering us and how it was. I don’t want to hurt you … not ever …”
“I wanted to tell him that I will never be sorry for loving him. That in a way I still do – that maybe I always will. I’ll never regret one single thing we did together because what we had was very special. Maybe if we were ten years older it would have worked out differently. Maybe. I think it’s just that I’m not ready for forever.”
“It’s strange, but when it comes right down to it I never do fall apart–even when I’m sure I will.”
“I want you to know it was no big deal…those movies showing women screaming in labor are plain bullshit….there’s nothing to it…you just push and push and finally the baby pops out…to tell you the truth I don’t even rember that much about it except there was a very nice guy standing over me and every time a strong contraction started he gave me a whiff of gas…”
“Do you think you can wait – because I don’t want you to stop loving me. I keep remembering us and how it was. I don’t want to hurt you…not ever…”
“I still get angry when older people assume that everyone in my generation, screws around. They’re probably the same ones who think all kids use dope. It’s true that we are more open than our parents but that just means we accept sex and talk about it. It doesn’t mean we are all jumping into bed together.”
“It’s true that we are more open than our parents but that just means we accept sex and talk about it. It doesn’t mean we are all jumping in bed together.”
“Sex is a commitment…Once you’re there you can’t go back to holding hands…and when you give yourself both mentally and physically…well, you’re completely vulnerable.”
“You better get used to it. You’re going to be on the ground a lot today, but cheer up… tomorrow you’ll be an expert.”
“Nights are the worst. You just don’t know what it’s like for me, trying not to think of [him]…knowing that we’re going to be apart for so long. It’s pure torture.”
“You’ve got to enjoy whatever you can and forget about the rest.”
“…love at thirteen is nothing like love at eighteen.”
“I made promises to you that I’m not sure I can keep.”
“It’s funny how you can grow away from your friends, when just a few years ago they were the most important people in your life.”
“…Sometimes spending a lot of time together can end a romance faster than anything else.”
“I love to watch to him while he sleeps. Besides everything else he is really my best friend now. It’s a different kind of friendship…It makes me wish I could share every day with him.”
“…I used to think if you read enough books you’d automatically know how to do everything the right way. But reading and doing are not the same at all.”
“You’re going to love it.”
I nodded and tried to smile back.
“We’re getting off at the beginners’ slope so you don’t have to worry.”
“I’m not worried.”
“You look scared to death.”
“Don’t be silly…I can’t wait to learn to ski.” But I was thinking, we’re going up so high…how will I ever get down? My father was right…I am going to break a leg…I am going to fall off this chairlift and break a leg…maybe even two…probably two legs and an arm…possibly more than that even.”
hate and war are bad words but fuck isn’t.’

 

Artie grew very sombre. `Eighteen years . he said. ‘A quarter of our lives gone by . . . over . . kaput . . just like that . . He snapped his fingers. ‘From now on it’s all  downhill . .

No, it’s not,’ I said, ‘it’s just the beginning . . the best part is still coming . . .’

Artie said, ‘Sure . . . you spend your whole life trying to make it and for what . . so you can wind up yin some cancer ward full of needles and tubes with nobody giving a shit . . . that’s what you’ve got to look forward to . that’s what we’ve all got coming . .

Erica touched his arm. ‘You’ve got to enjoy whatever you can and forget about the rest.’

‘The odds are stacked against us . .

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