Judy Blume has updated two of her most memorial novels, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. and Forever with current reproductive health information for young adults. According to Reproductive Health Reality Check, Blume took the menstruation belts out of Margaret and added condoms to Forever. H/t Feministe.
When you can’t count on the government, schools, or dubiously funded clinics for medically accurate and comprehensive sex education, you can still count on Judy Blume.
Known for arresting truthfulness in nineteen young adult novels, Blume’s characters wrestle not only with the usual friendship and family heartaches, but also with puberty, masturbation, sex, and developing bodies—all with an accuracy that’s made Blume, in her own words, “one of the most banned writers in the Americas” for nearly 40 years.
Before we get to the details, I want to pause here to sing some praise for Judy. She was my first favorite writer. In those awkward late elementary and middle school years, she told the exact stories I wanted to hear in exactly the way I wanted to hear them. When I got to the end of one of her books, I’d often flip it back around and start reading all over again.
In Margaret, the 12-year old protagonist eagerly awaits her first period. She practices putting on a menstruation belt, which even way back when I was reading the novel, were out of date. In 1998, Blume changed the belts to pads with sticky tape. According to RH Reality Check, some readers were upset that she’d changed a classic. But I see it as a good thing. Even though Blume’s novels were fiction, they were also educational. At least that was the case for me.
At the time, Margaret helped me understand that menstruation was a normal right of passage for girls my age. When my time came, at least I knew what the hell was going on. This is an important point. My mother was not big on front-end information. Once I got my period she was helpful enough, but she didn’t engage me in any heads-up, here’s what’s coming conversations. But Judy, she had my back.
And my mother’s, come to think of it.
Forever was an entirely different box of chocolates. This was the story of two 17-year olds, Katherine and Michael, who fall in love and decide to have sex. I read this book years before I was seventeen and I’ll tell you, it was riveting. Admittedly salacious and seemingly scandalous, I probably read that book five times cover to cover.
Blume wrote Forever in response to her daughter’s request to see a story about teenagers who had sex without being punished by grisly abortions, miscarriages, or deaths, the RH post says. In the version I read, Katherine goes to a health clinic where she is given a prescription for birth control pills.
It’s that scene that Blume refers to in a one-page preface added to recent editions of the book. She writes: “The seventies were a time when sexual responsibility meant preventing unwanted pregnancy. Today, sexual responsibility also means preventing sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. In this book Katherine visits a clinic and is given a prescription for The Pill. Today, she would be told it is essential to use a condom along with any other method of birth control. If you’re going to become sexually active, then you have to take responsibility for your own actions. So get the facts first.”
The preface refers readers to the websites of Planned Parenthood and Sex, Etc., a by-teens-for-teens online magazine.
According to the American Library Association, Forever was the eighth most banned book in the U.S. in the 1990s, the RH post says. Despite that, The Guardian reports it has sold 3.5 million copies worldwide, since its publication.
In an interview with Teenwire, Blume reflects on what might be so alarming about the book. “If there’s anything groundbreaking about (Forever),” Blume said, “maybe it’s that they’re sexually responsible. Or maybe it’s that Katherine enjoys her sexuality. There are still people who are bothered by that today.”
My mother wasn’t touching that one with a ten-foot pole. So it was books like Forever, and movies and television and my peers that guided me down the path of early sexuality. I understand that it isn’t easy for parents to talk to kids about sex. That’s why I’m glad I had Judy.
So what do you think? Was Judy wrong to change her books? And more importantly, did you love Judy too?