I can still remember when I finally got to read Judy Blume’s Forever. It seemed to mark a key moment in my reading life as a young adult – my favourite author was writing about… you know… doing IT. Young adults tend to read up – meaning that they like to read about characters slightly older than they are. And when YA readers find an author they like, they’re really loyal and devour everything that author produces! So when I was maybe about fourteen Judy Blume, my trusted beloved author-of-choice, initiated me into the complexity of young adult relationships, intimacy, contraception, teenage pregnancy and… sex. And just as well she did because I certainly wasn’t going to be asking my folks!
Here’s a line from that old classic:
“After, we lay in each other’s arms and I thought, there are so many ways to love a person. This is how it should be – forever.”
First published in 1975, Forever was able to capture the uncertainty, heartbreak and anxiety that comes with those first ‘serious relationships’.
Forever will remain as a classic and it’s because Blume has done a few clever things as a writer:
- Even though, as a teen I thought of the book Forever as “the s.e.x. book”, the story is about so much more. Blume didn’t write this book just for the sake of covering that particular topic.
- Forever, like all of Blume’s books, has real, loveable, flawed characters that you can become emotionally connected with. This helps you as a reader to deeply consider the concepts/ themes/ ideas that she cleverly embeds within the plot.
- Blume keeps it real. That was one thing I abso-loved about Blume as a young adult reader – I knew she told the truth. As I reflect back on it now, I realise I trusted Judy Blume! The dialogue was never contrived. The situations weren’t far-fetched. Some scenes made me feel uncomfortable. Some things challenged me. Blume wasn’t out to entertain, she was sharing her character’s story.
So – Blume was a master in this YA sub-genre of love, romance and intimacy, but it’s important to recognise that plenty of YA authors are canvassing the same topics in new, exciting and unique ways.
Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil is a gorgeous and touching first love story that I recently read. I still smile every time I think about it. Like Forever, this book isn’t just about falling in love… it’s about sooo much more… namely nerdy awkward group of kids recognising that their identity isn’t fixed, but evolving. Like Forever, the characters are endearing and you can connect with them. And whilst it’s not hard hitting gritty stuff, Life In Outer Space is real and truthful in it’s telling.
The Flywheel by Erin Gough is another recent YA novel that delves into the trauma of first serious love with grace and beauty. There’s a feisty protagonist called Delilah who happens to be a lesbian. (It’s about time the literature available to young people caught up with the real lives they’re living.) Delilah is dealing with a few kinds of heartbreak when she finally finds someone ready to love her. The Flywheel is like Forever in that it features characters and situations that YA readers will genuinely relate to. Gough hasn’t just chucked in a lesbian to spice things up. Delilah has known pain and disappointment – she’s been let down and deceived by others – and we get a sense of how hard it is for her to just be herself. That’s good, hardcore YA writing (in my humble, humble opinion!) and it means that the reader is invested in the character rather than the love plot.
Keep your eyes peeled for more top quality romance for YA and let us know!
And when you’re next tapping at the keyboard and thinking about the love-line within your broader YA plot line, remember what Judy taught us in Forever:
there are so many ways to love a person
Keep it real.
Focus on characters.
Have plot complexity.