MY LITTLE RED BOOK by Rachel Kauder Nalebuff

Book Quote:

“Every woman remembers her first period—where and when it happened, who, if anyone, she told, and even what she was wearing. And yet, despite our vivid memories of this momentous occasion, almost no one talks about it. Even fewer people write about it.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Poornima Apte (APR 23, 2009)

No matter where she lives in the world, a girl greets her first period with a mixture of dismay, joy, relief and apprehension. Even if it is an essential rite of passage for all women, the event is often shrouded in embarrassment and talk about periods is shared in hushed whispers. Until now. An amazingly simple idea—essays about first periods from a variety of women—forms the basis of My Little Red Book edited by young Rachel Kauder Nalebuff who will soon start her undergraduate studies at Yale.

It is amazing how most women remember at least some vivid details about their first period. There are some general themes that seem to cover most of the ground: a few think they are dying, some girls are eager to achieve this milestone especially if they are the last ones among their peers to get there, and yet others totally don’t know what’s happening. In one hilarious essay, Barclay Rachael Gang gets hers on Thanksgiving Day. She has been whipping up some cranberry sauce that day and suspects she just got some of it on her panties by mistake.

Nalebuff does a great job choosing a diverse cross-section of women—young and old, and across many cultures to show how the experience is different for many women. The simplicity and matter-of-factness with which most of these essays are written belie some startling details. There’s a young Jewish girl who escapes being strip-searched by the Nazis because of her first period. A Kenyan woman details missing school for a week every month because of a lack of sanitary supplies. Then there is Shobha Sharma, an Indian girl who, according to custom, was isolated from other family members when her period arrived. As appalling as the information in these particular essays are, the reader is struck by how casually the authors relay these facts—it’s almost as if, decades later, these women have come to make peace with the way things were for them.

What has changed over the years is how women who went through an embarrassing first experience now choose to empower their daughters with more knowledge and preparation. As easy as it would be to make this book a primer about mothering styles, I also think it would be unfair to do so. As My Little Red Book shows, each woman tries her best, given all her baggage (cultural or otherwise) to make it easy for generations that follow. You can be over-eager as Nancy Gruver and Joe Kelly were—read their essay “Progressive Parenting,” or stumble along and hope you did right by your daughter.

As good as the essays in My Little Red Book themselves are, the book deserves an equal measure of praise for bringing a fuzzy and embarrassing subject to the forefront and letting women share their stories. The fascination this book held for my 14-year-old daughter was even greater than it did for me. My younger daughter, who is almost 12, wanted to have nothing to do with the book. She might, some day.

As an aside, special kudos go to Twelve Books—a publishing division of Hachette Book Groups—that has sought out interesting topics and consistently turned them into good reads. I have enjoyed many of their books including The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, tremendously.

As for this one, it is telling that Nalebuff uses the phrase “Rorschach blot” to describe the growing patch that made up her first period. In a sense, the reactions girls show to this milestone is perhaps indicative of their varied personalities.

My Little Red Book lets women of all ages know that they are not alone. Every one of us gets it and goes through its attendant pains and embarrassments. In one of the essays, A Coup at the Napkin Dispenser, contributor Linda Lindroth, compares getting her first period to her friend’s vacation in Cuba witnessing Fidel Castro grabbing the reins of power in 1960. “My friend’s vacation story was far more dramatic than mine—hers as a witness to history while mine was elemental and inevitable,” Lindroth writes. Getting your first period is an intimate, personal milestone she seems to imply. How could it possibly compare to a more dramatic world event? Now wait a minute, sister. If you want to go ahead and say it—getting your first period was almost as momentous as watching a world history event unfold—we’ll certainly understand.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 34 readers
PUBLISHER: Twelve (February 26, 2009)
REVIEWER: Poornima Apte
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Rachel Kauder Nalebuff
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another review of same book


April 23, 2009 · Judi Clark · One Comment
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Coming-of-Age, Non-fiction

One Response

  1. mylittleredbook - April 27, 2009

    Poornima and Vandana,

    Your reviews were such a joy to read! What thoughtful comments interlaced with your wonderful senses of humor. Seeing posts like yours reminds me why I edited the book in the first place.

    Keep it flowin, ladies!


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.