September 01, 2005
Judy Blume's Forever was first published in 1975, which is why it is held as the first Serious Book About Sex that YA's had available to them. There is still a huge firestorm of controversy about the book, even as late as 2004 a school librarian in Texas was appealing to have it banned for all time from school shelves.
Oddly, Norma Fox Mazer's Up in Seth's Room has all but submerged without a splash, and vanished in relative obscurity. Published in 1979, this book writes in more specific detail about different kinds of sexual activities, but surprisingly it's out of print, and the first edition copy I was able to run down was borrowed from a library in Lake County, at least five hours away. I wonder at the reasons why this book didn't catch on as well. Did it seem to be a copycat effort after Blume? Was it because the sex wasn't actual intercourse? Was it because everyone was still distracted by being annoyed with Blume?
Mazer's writing is, in my mind, actually better than Blume's. Finn is fifteen, and in high school. She has friends, she has a family, and she has definite sexual feelings. Seth, at nineteen, is a high school dropout who wants to go into agriculture the old fashioned way -- buy some land and start a farm. Both teens are smart and articulate, and know what they want... and what they don't want. Finn has a lot of signals from her body, but she doesn't want to have sex. Seth ...does.
There's a heightened sense of push-pull throughout the book as the characters enable obstacles to getting what they want. Finn first dreams, then dares, then openly defies her parents -- in what surely to me was a groundbreaking (for that time, anyway) show of independence in a YA character. She gets slapped. She gets screamed at. She gets ignored. She goes to see Seth anyway. Her sister, kicked out of the house for "living in sin" with her boyfriend, Seth's older brother, even sides against Finn, telling her she's too young for the commitment, and that Seth's "bad news." Seth moves out of their house. It all seems like it's going to go Romeo & Juliet: two teens against the universe, until we remember that Finn... doesn't want to have sex.
And then Seth has to remember that, too.
It's a bittersweet ending -- it's like the point in a relationship where you know you'd better commit or end. Mazer chooses to end the book, and Finn realizes that she will move on. I really like that she is a solid character who makes up her mind and isn't swayed by a handsome boy, and doesn't drift from sexual conquest to conquest for whatever reason, as does her best friend. She's not anti-sex... she's very interested in being with Seth, and just wants to be assured that he's listening to her about what she wants. Seth has to have a wake-up call about what a girl says and what a girl means when she says yes to some things and no to others. All in all, it seems like it was a really well-thought out plot, and featured the life of one very strong-willed person in such a positive light that I was amazed that more hadn't been made of it long ago. She pursued him, she got what she wanted, she rejected what she didn't want, and she wasn't a nerd, she still had respect and friends and good physical feelings in the morning.
I wonder why I never heard of this?