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by Erzsi Deak
HarperCollins, 2003
Review by Anne Philbrow on Jul 13th 2004

Period Pieces

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.

While 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. 

The theme, 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 transition.

 

© 2004 Anne Philbrow
 

Anne Philbrow writes of herself:

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.