Did reading Forever at 11 ruin me forever?

It’s Banned Books Week this week, and it turns out that Judy Blume’s Forever is one of the top 10 banned books of the 21st Century and one of the top 10 banned books from 1990-2000 as well.

Ralph’s wickedness endures.

My editor sent me the link to this essay in Publisher’s Weekly, by children’s librarian Shannon Stevenson, written in response to my Times essay. I’ve thought about this issue of age-appropriateness a lot, as a writer and as a mother. I grew up in a house filled with books, and none were forbidden to me—my mother let me read whatever I wanted. She let me buy a copy of Forever when I was 11, which made me very popular among my friends. (My dog-eared copy was passed around by all of them.) But reading about Ralph at a tender age didn’t lead me down a wanton path, as it seems the book censors fear. In fact I was probably the most chaste teenager on the planet. If anything, being allowed to read books like that (and knowing that I could talk to my mom about pretty much anything) helped me figure out that I wasn’t ready to meet any Ralphs in person for a long time.

A book is not a movie—a reader is an active participant in a book; they conjure the images in their mind. I’ve always preferred books to movies, and that’s partly why. I watched some of The Shining when I was really young, and that scared the living crap out of me for the rest of my life, mostly because I couldn’t get those images out of my head. Forever, or any books I read with sex and violence didn’t scare the crap out of me, because I brought my own experience to those books, my own images.

The one thing I remember most about the impact Forever had on me was how quickly the characters fell out of love. That’s what shocked me. As a young girl, I believed the romance-novel notion that when you fell in love, it would last forever. Having that illusion broken had more impact on me than Ralph did.

So no, Forever didn’t ruin me. Though I wonder what other names Judy had in mind besides “Ralph”? Did she ever think about Tommy? George? Mortimer? Sigmund? Agamemnon? Ignatius? Shlomo?

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