Remembering the books that taught us more than we ever cared to learn.
Forever… by Judy Blume
“Sybil Davidson has a genius I.Q. and has been laid by at least six different guys…”
It’s the first line of Forever by Judy Blume. Everyone always talks about Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? And “we must, we must, we must increase our bust,” but it was Forever that I read again and again until it was in 3 separate pieces, and then read it some more.
Forever taught me everything I know about love and sex. Well, no, I know more now. But Forever shaped my young worldview. It taught me that sex was about love, but not necessarily about marriage. That it was about commitment, but not necessarily life-long commitment. That you could love someone as a teenager, and it could be real, and wonderful, and important, and worthwhile, and it could end and you could move on, and that was okay too.
So that was my mindset when I met Jared, my first for-real boyfriend. He was tall and smart and rich and Jewish — everyone said my mother must be thrilled. My mother was horrified. “Oh my God, Rachel, he’s so…CONVENTIONAL!”
We lost our virginities in a stunning display of simultaneous non-orgasm, and proceeded to have a very lovely First Relationship.
At some point, I bought him a copy of Forever. The cover had changed, from the gold-tone locket illustration of my decimated 1970s copy to a photograph of a pretty blond that made me want to stab someone. Still, I had no apprehension about giving him the book – it was about the importance of young love, about the power of emerging sexual awakening, and most of all it was hugely important to me.
He hated it. Haaaaaated it. Somehow, despite having the book entirely memorized, I had neglected to notice that the couple breaks up at the end, when she meets someone a little bit older, more worldly, more interesting. They see each other one last time at a stationery store. “I wanted to tell him I’d never be sorry for loving him…” Uunnff it’s so good. But okay, yes, potentially horrifying to an infatuated 19-year-old.
So here’s how I decided to fix this: I stole the book back. I stole it back, and I cut out the last few chapters with an exacto knife. The whole part that makes the book nuanced and realistic and different from other teen romances. I rewrote the ending, and glued that in instead. It included sentences like “Oh god, I love you” I told him. “And we belong together. And I don’t ever want to be apart again.” The last words were “happily ever after.”
So I took this frankenbook, and I wrapped it up, and tied a ribbon around it, and gave to it him for his birthday, about a year and a half into our relationship. He loved it, he said it was perfect, it was the most wonderful, beautiful thing anyone had ever given him.
We broke up two weeks later.
—Rachel Fershleiser works at Tumblr, managing outreach to authors, publishers, and literary organizations. Previously she was the Community Manager at Bookish and the Director of Public Programs at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. She is also the co-creator of Six-Word Memoirs and co-editor of the New York Times Bestseller Not Quite What I Was Planning and three other books. She likes to bloviate on panels about the internet, social media, and the future of books, all of which she believes in a lot.