In fourth grade, my mom gave me my first Judy Blume novel, “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret.“ She had read it as a young girl and wanted to pass opportunity on to me. Any age after ten can be extremely awkward and Blume was there to tell me that it was okay to grow up and feel different. The book meant so much to me that I ended up handing it to my younger cousin, with the hope that it would help her deal with the awkwardness as well.
In eighth grade, my private Catholic middle school introduced a new reading program and there were multiple pages of books to choose from. As I pored over the list, I saw the beloved Judy Blume and at that point it did not even matter which one of her novels made the list, I was going to read it. The novel was “Forever.” I went out and bought it that day, and finished it less than two days later. I was shocked, confused and completely impressed all at the same time. Shocked because I had never read a book about sex before. Confused because I wasn’t even sure that I should be reading about such things. And impressed because it had made the list in a conservative environment. Our sex education consisted of simple biology, nothing more than that. In comparison, Blume gave me two teenagers with responsibilities, with love, with intense passion and with heartbreak. I had no idea sex was so complex and yet totally natural. 180 pages over 48 hours taught me more than the last three years of sex education ever did. The book almost felt like gold in my hands. I was holding the answers to all the questions my peers and I didn’t know we should be asking.
Naturally, word got out. As I passed the book to my friends, some boys found out and would not stop talking about the sex. As they fought over who got to read it next, the school’s officials found out and called me to their office. Apparently, rumor had it that I was passing around porn. Even though the book had been on a school-approved reading list that week, they told me that it did not belong in the hands of 13-year-olds because it contained content that was too explicit. The vice principal, a nun who scoured the halls on a scooter, ultimately took the book away. I have not seen it since.
It was years later, while walking around a bookstore, that I remembered the story behind the novel that changed my life. Or, at least, my views on sex. It created a lens through which I could view life, love and sex without the moral restrictions my school tried to impose. Those years spent in private Catholic school made it hard for me to separate myself from the conservative views that were forced on me. But “Forever” created a space for me to develop my own thoughts on what it means to be in love today. About what I find acceptable and pleasurable. Novels have a way of allowing you to escape from your reality, even if only for a short moment. ”Forever” gave me the opportunity to escape the conservative views that surrounded my life, and turn pages in to different opinions, thoughts and experiences.
So thank you, Judy Blume. If it weren’t for you, I might have never figured out what sex could really mean on my own terms.
This article originally ran in the Winter 2012 issue of Fem.
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