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Beyond “Forever”

Lauren Ortega, 20
Lauren Ortega. Photo by Claudio Sanchez/NPR

Back in July I heard an interview on NPR with Lauren Ortega, a 20 year old Latina woman, who was struggling to earn her high school diploma while raising two children she had as a teen.  My heart ached for her as I listened to her talk about the challenges of teen pregnancy and motherhood.

Then I received my Summer 2011 Young Adult Library Services in the mail, which included a study by Caroline McKinley of current YA female characters and their sexual behaviors and attitudes. These YA characters have complex emotions about their sexual experiences.

McKinley’s article includes a nod to Forever, the Judy Blume classic about teenage sexual relationships.  It’s a personal favorite of mine for its honest portrayal of first sexual experiences.  However, that novel was published in 1975; are there books being published now that offer an honest perspective?

A check of YALSA’s  2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults nominees produced the novel Every Little Thing in the World by Nina DeGramont, published in 2010.  The novel focuses on teenage Sydney, who is trying to decide what to do about her unexpected pregnancy.

DeGramont writes honestly about the fears of unplanned pregnancy, especially when there isn’t a committed relationship between the teen mother and father.  She also doesn’t shy away from the topic of abortion as part of the decision, or avoid it by using miscarriage as a way of making the decision for Sydney.  The novel is well-written and highly readable, made all the more poignant by the character of Sydney’s best friend, who has very personal reasons for wanting Sydney to keep her baby.

This book, and others like it, belong in libraries.  In 2008, YALSA blogger Carlie Webber wrote, “Of all the books for teens that do get banned, I often feel that the ones that are banned for sexual content are the ones most worth protecting.”  Books that honestly portray the emotions and realities of teen sexual relationships should be in the hands of readers.

– Casey O’Leary, who is attempting to wait patiently for Blueprints For Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell from the library.