Julia Collins does not want to have sex with her boyfriend, Jeremy. Not yet. At 16, she doesn’t feel ready and she has a lot of other things going on in her life. Her father died six months ago, her grandmother has cancer, and she’s been fighting with her best friend, Annika, ever since starting her relationship with Jeremy. Julia is fragile, still reeling from the profound changes caused by her father’s death. She’s on meds for depression and anxiety and has periodic meltdowns during which she can’t function. Jeremy’s attention is a lifeline; he’s popular, sexy, and makes her feel wanted when he kisses her. She adores him, but is sometimes frightened by his temper. Annika, her mother, and grandmother all warn her about Jeremy, but Julia must find out for herself exactly how far she will let him go.
Forever Julia is a difficult book. Because it is written in the first person, we experience Julia’s pain directly, but we know something she doesn’t: Jeremy is more than just a tempting bad boy, he’s dangerous and she needs to get away from him. It’s very frustrating to observe her inner turmoil from this vantage point, like watching a girl wander across a busy highway, unaware of the hurtling cars all around her. This creates a distance between the reader and Julia, and despite our compassion for her situation, it’s hard to relate to her.
Getting trapped in an abusive relationship is a common plight for many girls and women, and Julia’s story is one that needs to be told and understood. The sense of helplessness the reader feels is similar to that felt by friends and family with a loved one who is unable to pull away from a violent partner. Author Jodi Carmichael writes about life as a teenager with humour and insight, showing how easy it is for peer pressure and the need to be loved to lead to risky behaviour. However, this message is overshadowed by other issues she tries to address, including grief, anxiety disorder, and cancer. Forever Julia is a raw, sensitive book that perhaps tries to do too much.