Dear Friends at Sugarloaf School,

Thanks for alerting me to the Forever controversy. Forever is a love story about two seniors in high school. It says that there are difficult decisions to be made in life. We have to learn to choose wisely. Sometimes we make mistakes. We can't blame our mistakes on others. We have to take responsibility for our own actions. Sexual responsibility is important. We need to be able to learn to say no as easily as yes.

As adults, it doesn't help to bury our heads in the sand and say our teens aren't having sex - because a lot of them are, and without considering the consequences. Otherwise we wouldn't have so many unwanted teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Young people need information. That information should come from the home - from the parents - but often it doesn't. Many school districts have outstanding sexuality education programs. I've heard from some who use Forever in those programs as a springboard to discussion.

I dedicated the book to my daughter, who was 14 and in 8th grade, when I wrote it in 1975. Today she is the mother of an 18 year old son. She was (and still is) a voracious reader. But so many of the books she was reading that year linked sex with punishment – if a girl succumbed (girls never had any sexual feelings) she would wind up with a grisly abortion, a hasty trip to Aunt Mary's in another state, abandonment and a life ruined. My daughter was bothered by the message in these books and so was I. My daughter had no sexual experience but she was curious. Reading about something isn't the same as doing it. In fact, reading about it and talking about it with adults, often leads to putting it off. All of this led to the writing of Forever, a story connecting sex with responsibility, not punishment.

Yes, Forever is sexually explicit, but it deals with emotions and responsibilities. You can't go back to holding hands, as Katherine's mother says in the book, so you'd better think ahead. I wrote the book with a young teenage audience in mind. When kids ask how old they should be before reading it, I urge them to wait until they are at least twelve and then to take their questions to a caring adult. But I've had letters from kids even younger who say they read and understood every word in the book - and letters from older teens who started it, didn't feel ready, and put it down. Kids don't read books that make them feel uncomfortable.

When one adult or group of adults demands the removal of a book from a school or library, those adults are making a statement to the students. This book has something in it we don't want you to know about. We don't want to deal with this subject. We don't want to answer your questions. Your questions make us uncomfortable. Calling it smut, as someone recently did in the Citizen's Voice, only makes kids more anxious to read it, and leaves them thinking they can't ever go their parents with questions. As a parent, you can tell your child you don't want him/her to read a book. What you can't do is make that decision for all parents and their children. I encourage parents to use Forever as a bridge to communication, to use Katherine and Michael to help them talk about topics they may not have discussed before. If their values are different from Katherine's and her family's, fine. They can tell their children what's right for their family and why.

What matters is that young people continue to have a choice in reading materials. What may not be right for one parent's child may be exactly right for another's. Imagine if we pulled every book from the school library that presents ideas and situations we may not agree with ourselves! Instead, if we learn to talk to our kids, listen to what they have to say, and learn to trust them, we won't have to worry about the books they choose to read.

I'm glad Sugarloaf School has a policy in place for dealing with challenged books. And, of course, Forever belongs in the YA collection. No one is suggesting it be placed on a shelf with my books for younger readers.

Thank you for your support and thank you for caring about the rights of your young readers.

Very best,
Judy

PS I am enclosing a brief summary of the citation from the American Library Association when they presented Forever with the Margaret A. Edwards award. Also, some of the more recent letters from teachers and students about the book.

 

Margaret A. Edwards Award

Judy Blume is the recipient of the 1996 Margaret A. Edwards Award
presented by the American Library Association. This award honors an
author for lifetime achievement in writing books that help young adults
understand themselves and their world.

In presenting this award to Judy Blume for Forever, the Young Adult
Library Services Association recognizes an author who broke new
ground with her frank portrayal of teenage love and sexuality in an
open, realistic manner. Katherine and Michael are high school seniors
who are in love for the first time. They believe their love will last
"forever."

Judy Blume has crafted her characters carefully and with compassion
as they experience emotions that are as true today as they were when
the book was written in 1975. The appeal of the book is fresh and
continuous because every day someone, somewhere, finds a first
love.

In recognition of her outstanding contribution to literature for young
adults we present the 1996 Margaret A. Edwards Award to Judy
Blume.