By Erzsi Deak HarperCollins, 2003 Review by Anne Philbrow on Jul 13th 2004
This is an
anthology of stories for 8 -12 year old girls about first experiences of
menstruation. Every woman has her own story. My granny was terrified, not
having been warned, and thought she was dying. 90 years later, my friend
marked her daughter's onset of menarche with a trip to McDonalds followed by
the cinema with friends. Even with this noticeably different attitude, the
girl didn't let on to her friends what they were actually celebrating.
Nowadays, let us hope, our
daughters are knowing enough not to be frightened by the onset of menstruation.
At least they will know the mechanics of it. Yet there is a dearth of
literature on emotional and social reactions. It is strange to observe all
these older girls and women going about their normal business when you just
know one in four of them is hiding a Big Secret. For all our openness, it is
still a relatively taboo subject. So it is good to see a book for girls full
of stories of the protagonist's – most of the stories are written in the first
person – own experiences and attitudes towarsd menstruation. Excitement,
revulsion, humour, curiosity, celebration, denial – it's all there.
When I started
reading this collection, I thought the descriptions were autobiographical,
which is testimony to the authenticity of the experience. But, as one of the
contributors, Dian Curtis Regan says, 'Everything is true and nothing is
true'. Some of the stories are in fact true, but all of them are drawn from a
commonality of genuine experience, with which any girl can recognise and
identify. A broad range of places and times are represented – Mexico, India, the United States – and different attitudes accordingly.
Nevertheless, American experience dominates.
acknowledging the idea behind this – presumably to underscore the universality
of the experience, and to demonstrate different cultural attitudes towards this
time of change – as a British reader, if I were to use this to introduce the
subject to my daughter, I would prefer some contemporary snapshots of British
life. But perhaps that's a different book.
although overtly about menstruation, is really about growing up, and menstruation
is part of the initiation. For example, one of the characters puts a positive
slant on her new experience:
'Well, Sophie, I
think as I walk into the shop, if I can have a baby like you someday, then I
guess it's worth all that mess of being born female. Afterward I think I'll
get coffeee ice-cream. It's more grown-up than my usual chocolate.'
There are stories
here to address a range of hopes, fears and emotions, and the dreaded 'what if's',
that are hard to voice. What if it happens in public and you bleed through
your clothes? 'White Pants' is a true story of such mortification. And it
shows you you can survive this – what is a big deal to you, isn't such a big
deal to anyone else.
I would recommend
this book as a gift to any girl approaching puberty, to reassure her she is not
alone. Owing to the commonality of experience, I would also consider using
some of the stories as a discussion starter in women's groups. We all have
stories to tell. Let's hear more of them, and celebrate this time of
I am a self-employed video producer and
teach music and drama on a part-time basis. I have a BA Hons in Philosophy from
UCW, Aberystwyth, UK and have done postgraduate research in
Moral and Social Philosophy, specializing in Animal Rights. In my spare time, I
do some freelance writing (book and theater reviews, articles) and have
contributed to Philosophy in Review. I am a user of mental health services.