cover image for ForeverBlume, Judy (1975) Forever.  New York, NY: Antheneum

Plot Summary:

Girl meets boy.  Boy and girl fall in love.  Girl goes to Planned Parenthood.  Girl and boy have sex.  Girl and boy are separated.  Girl falls in love with new boy.  Girl breaks up with old boy.  Boy is sad, but moves on.  Girl is sad, but happy with new boy.  At no point during the story does the girl get pregnant, catch a disease, or die.

Critical Evaluation:

This is perhaps the least inviting plot summary I have ever written, but to be perfectly honest Forever was one of the least interesting teen books I have ever read.  It is possible that at one point in time Katherine and Michael both felt real and modern, but that time is no longer.  Most of the prose is the opposite of compelling (“On Friday, right after school, I washed my hair.  I couldn’t eat any dinner.  My parents gave me a couple of funny looks…”) and what little personality comes through feels dated and forced. Without any emotional attachment or investment in either character, their romance and break-up failed to move me in any way.

I applaud Blume for her intentions and what she accomplished by writing a story about teens having responsible sex and not getting punished for it by fate or society.  Yet, as sad as it is that such a story was and still is groundbreaking, and as much as I would include it in a young adult collection, I must admit I would have a hard time recommending this novel to any teens.  It reads like a lecture; the fact that it is one I agree with does not by itself make it a pleasurable or worthwhile read.

Reader’s Annotation:

Katherine and Michael are in love, that part they know.  Now the question is: should they or shouldn’t they?

Booktalking Ideas:

I would never book talk this title if I could help it.  But if I absolutely had to, I would focus on the parts that make it revolutionary – the fact that the teens in the story decide to have sex and survive doing so.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/14 -19

Potential Controversy:

[Pardon me a moment while I wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes.]

Sadly, even unmarried adult women admitting to having sex is so controversial that public figures have no problem labeling law students “sluts” for speaking about birth control.  So, needless to say, a book about an unmarried teen girl deciding to have sex? And going to Planned Parenthood?  And not being punished for it?  And then being the dumper not the dumpee?  Yeah. This is the kind of title that has always been frequently challenged and sadly will continue to be challenged for quite some time.  While its age and the popularity and respectability of its author cushions it from some criticism, they are by no means an impenetrable armor.

The one positive thing about the dry tone of the book is that is hampers its popularity and therefore also how much of a priority people make to challenge it.  It also assists in combating accusations of luridness or obscenity.  (Which, to be fair, was likely part of the reason it was written they way that it was.)  When a challenge does come up, the best thing would be to focus on the fact that the teens in the story have responsible sex, that it is the right of individual parents to help their own children make reading choices, and that many parents and health professionals believe that it is extremely appropriate and useful for older teens to be reading stories about other teens sexual choices and exploring such ideas theoretically before making real life decisions about their own lives.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I have a bad habit of getting into arguments about Twilight.  (You know what it’s like when people are wrong on the internet.)  A lot of times people in these discussions say things like “kids should be reading Forever instead!”  Now that I have read it, my answer will be: NO.  Teens deserve books that have plots like Forever’s and yet are interesting reads and address desire like Twilight.  Until we have more (any?) books like that, I’m not going to judge any teen for reading either.



Serving Young Tweens and Teens: Chapter 2

[ok, now for the actual reflective essay]

As I was cleaning up around the children’s room the other day I ran across a smaller book tucked inside a bigger one – the way people on television will sometimes hide their real reading material behind more acceptable, larger one.  The dummy book was some random graphic novel biography, but the title inside was one of our recently acquired books – an updated version of Joanna Cole’s “Asking About Sex and Growing Up.”

As I was reading Hager talk about her own experiences trying to get the information she was looking for as a tween, I kept thinking about the fact that making sure that your library has a good selection of materials is only half the battle.  The other part is making sure that kids can find the books they need.   This is especially hard when it comes to books about puberty because patrons in general, but especially the younger and more self-conscious tweens, don’t always feel comfortable asking librarians for help finding such materials.  The shyness – or sense of shame – that keeps kids hiding books behind other books makes it nearly impossible for them to ask for help locating such titles.

It’s important to be friendly, helpful, and respectful of privacy when answering reference questions – aside from being important no matter what, it goes a long way towards making the patron feel confident in returning the next time they have a question, no matter what the question may be.  But that still isn’t going to be enough to convince all patrons to feel comfortable going up and asking a near stranger for books about sex.

I’m sure what the solution to this is.  Displays don’t seem quite right, because finding the right book for the right child is especially important when it comes to this topic, and check-outs from displays tend to be impulse check-outs* rather than something that is picked up after looking through all the possibilities to find the perfect title.  (I also work in a fairly conservative part of Southern California, and while I don’t give much though to possible challenges when purchasing books, I do consider it when creating and placing displays.)  I have been wanting to put together topical bookmarks that list several of the titles that we have on that topic [alphabet books, “if you like…” type lists, etc], it might help to do a series on books about sex and puberty.

(now, to only find the time to start this project…)

*I worked in a bookstore for several years before switching to libraries, and I still use some of the terminology – sometimes modified – when there doesn’t seem to be equivalent in library-speak.  Apologies if this means I don’t always make sense.  “Impulse buy” is a common term in retail and pretty much what everything from the displays to the layout of the store was devoted to it.

Serving Young Teens and Tweens: Chapter 1

I have to say that I love how Anderson starts this chapter.

Just as tweens often swing back and forth between childhood and being teenagers, our views of the the advantages they have and risks they face tends to vary wildly from adult to adult and from one day to the next.  The truth is that tweens are individuals, just like adults, and the dangers they face and the skills they have for coping with them varies a lot.

This is part of why Lesesne is so very right when she talks about finding the right book for the right reader.  It’s not just that some kids may be ready for certain topics while others of the same chronological age aren’t, but that some kids already have to deal with such things, while others don’t.  Some kids have parents that are capable and interested in discussing what their kids are reading, others aren’t.  So some tweens need stories that talk about certain problems or ideas more than others, and some tweens have more support at home in case they need help dealing with the concepts they come across.

One of the questions I ask myself when it comes to deciding if certain movies and books are appropriate for children and teens is whether or not children are likely to be dealing with any of the issues that make the story potentially inappropriate.  I may not recommend certain books to most tweens I encounter, but I do want to make sure that children and teens that are dealing with tough issues have protagonists they can relate to in the fiction in our collection, and information that can help them in the non-fiction in that same collection.  This means that there will be books about abuse, assault, sexuality, drugs, and all kids of other controversial issues in the juvenile and young adult collections that not every parent will agree with.

Packaging Boyhood Interview

I absolutely loved the interview with the author’s of Packaging Boyhood.* So often when people write or talk about boys and their needs in newspaper articles and the like, it’s written in a very adverserial way that buys into the myths that Tappan, Brown, and Lamb are trying to dismantle. Which, needless to say, only makes the problem that much harder to tackle. Sadly, the other two articles have some stellar examples of this. I think the part that stood out most to me** was the way that this response from the Packaging Boyhood authors:

If Harry Potter told us anything, it’s that boys do read and they read long books with complex storylines if the books interest them. Harry Potter’s great — it doesn’t play into what boys are “supposed to like.” They’re supposed to like farts, burps, yucky things, explosions, violence, and action action action.

Is in direct opposition to the way the article in The Awl ends:

I can remember boys herding like that, snickering furtively and elbowing ribs. The book was the dictionary, and the passage in question was the definition of “mount.” Boys were then boys, as they ever will be, and it turns out we really ought to have been praising them: not only were they reading, they were kind of discussing relationships too.

Ok, story time: When I was younger, I used to draw all the time. One day I drew a kid in a karate uniform (Karate Kid had come out maybe a year or two before). All nice and shiny and ready for pictures. And then I drew him again. After a fight. Beat up, cast on, bruises on his face, hobbling on crutches. But still smiling. My mother was not pleased. I dunno if she ever reacted that way to my brother’s drawings, but in any case a mother’s displeasure often feels different when you are a girl, yes? Unlike my brother, the only karate uniforms I drew from then on were worn by koalas.

I think, when talking about gross, weird, and nasty books – as well as violent, scary, and terror-inducing stories – we focus a lot on the fact that boys will like them, and forget that girls might like them too. And that a lot of girls may be afraid to admit it because they think they aren’t supposed to. (Trust me, I get plenty of girls asking for Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark).

I think that the same thing happens with boys and the types of books we figure girls like – books about characters’ social and inner lives – their emotional lives. When I think of all the shows that do feature boys, shows like Zeke and Luther, Drake and Josh – the shows that “The Great Retweening” doesn’t think exists (and even many that have boys as secondary characters, like Sonny With a Chance) the most striking characteristic is that the boys on them always clearly have rather rich emotional lives. It’s often mocked, but it’s also always still there. Boys on television are almost never without a best friend, whether they be 5 or 55. But at the same time, that friendship and the emotional turmoil that boys want to explore is so often undermined on those same shows – as if the only way that boys can feel comfortable watching such shows is if they don’t admit why.

This same topic came up a few years ago at a really fascinating panel discussion at the LA Times Festival of Books. It was made of up their 2006 YA Book prize winner, Coe Booth, and the finalists, M. T. Anderson, Nancy Werlin, John Green, and Meg Rosoff. At one point someone asked the panelists if they thought there was a lack of books for and featuring boys. It was pretty unanimous that that meme was bullshit. (having shelves books for years at both a library and bookstore, I agree.) The one not quite dissenting opinion (Green) – which also got nods from practically everyone after he made it – was that there aren’t enough quality books for boys.*** That the books with teen male protagonists tended to be pretty stereotypical, and their plots tended to avoid the emotional. Green didn’t say this specifically, but the overall argument seemed to be that there were hundreds of Eragons, but very few Colins or Octavians.

I remember thinking at the time that I wished all discussions about literature for boys – and boys reading habits – could be that nuanced and grounded in reality. They still aren’t, generally, but Packaging Boyhood looks like it should be a positive voice for change in literature for boys.

*yes, it’s already on my to-read shelf

**ok, not really, but the parts that really stuck with me the most are prompting responses not appropriate for homework.

*** I don’t think that this is in opposition with the idea than kids shouldn’t be ashamed to be reading genre books and the like, because really the issue is more about variety of protagonists’ characteristics than the quality of writing, although quality writing tends to go hand in hand with more flexibility and nuance.