________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 9. . . .December 19, 2008


Sweet Secrets: Stories of Menstruation.

Kathleen O'Grady & Paula Wansbrough.
Toronto, ON: Sumach Press, 1997.
231 pp., pbk., $11.95.
ISBN 0-929005-33-3.

Subject Headings:
Menstruation-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-10 / Ages 10-15.

Review by Kay Weisman.

*** /4




Did you know that women who live in the same house or who see each other often, like close friends or relatives, often start to menstruate on exactly the same day in synchronicity? Or that for thousands and thousands of years women have used the phases of the moon as a way to mark the passage of their bleeding cycles? And that many cultures all over the world treat menstruation as a powerful and sacred process? First menstruation is an especially important event and has been celebrated by people throughout history.

     O'Grady and Wansbrough, an English academic and Canadian youth worker, have compiled a unique collection of factual information and short stories/memoirs relating to menstruation. The opening chapters provide a detailed discussion of the menstrual process (including anatomical structures and physiological changes to the body), information about when to expect a first period, commentary about how relationships with other women may change after menstruation, colloquial terms for this event, what to do about cramps, whether to use pads or tampons, and accounts of cultures that publicly celebrate the advent of menses. Interspersed among these informational segments are comments from more than thirty contributors, women ranging in age from 13 to 93. Two small black and white diagrams are included, depicting the female reproductive organs and an exterior pubic view.

     The second (and longer) portion of the book contains stories of menstruation – grouped thematically around waiting (for a first period), the arrival, reaching out (to other women), challenges, the passage (to womanhood), and putting it all together. Many of the stories are personal reminiscences; they range from funny and frank (Blood and Blood and Chestnuts) to poignant (Jennifer's Birthday) to empowering (Passage to Womanhood and On My Own) to traumatic (Turnings). Most selections are short, interspersed with chatty sidebars offering helpful tips on bloating, PMS, menstrual odors, alternatives to disposable menstrual products, pelvic exams, yeast infections, cystitis, and menstrual myths. The authors append a period days calendar, glossary, bibliography, index, and biographical notes on contributors, and recommend that readers skip around in the text choosing sections that intrigue them most.

     Because much of this book is so personal in nature, it will probably be most appreciated by browsers, although health classes may find it useful as well. One of its strengths is that it offers a great deal of useful information that is not always readily accessible from other sources. The presentation is nonjudgmental, emphasizing the great variety in women and their cycles. Also, because the contributors represent such a wide range of ages, cultures, and nationalities, they are able to provide diverse viewpoints and offer unusual insights. (For example, menstruating Greek Orthodox women are not supposed to take communion.) The result is an accepting and reassuring volume that celebrates the joys (and minor inconveniences) of womanhood.


Kay Weisman is a Master of Arts in Children's Literature candidate at the University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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