Search on SLJ.com ....
Subscribe to SLJ
Follow This Blog: RSS feed
A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

It’s That Time of the Month

How often do characters in young adult books get their periods?

calendar 300x122 Its That Time of the Month

Kelly at Stacked and I were discussing this the other day, in the context of the people who live in dystopias who never have to worry about this, apparently. I imagine the arguments on the other side: not every detail of life is shown, people are under stress/malnutrition, the book is set during a less than one month time period. Still, it’s a part of life, and how often is that included in books for young adults?

There is, of course, Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. As you may remember from three years ago, Common Sense Media’s original review of Margaret recommended it for those over 14, in part because it mentioned menstruation (see Meg Cabot’s blog entry discussing this in greater detail).

The problem in trying to think of titles is that I don’t always track this type of thing, unless there is a memorable scene, such as in This is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn by Aidan Chambers.

Historical fiction definitely adds another layer to the conversation, because of the difference in ages when girls matured, etc. If you’re interested in the topic, the website History of Menstruation & Women’s Health is fascinating.

What about fantasy? Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, for example, featured a character whose ability to communicate with others via dreams happens when she bleeds, and that includes getting her period. Alanna by Tamora Pierce also mentions the main character menstruating.

This is by no means a complete list. Do you think it matters, if say, someone is on a several months long quest or adventure and this never comes up? Or is it one of those things you just assumes happens but doesn’t need to be on the page?

And what books would you add to the list?

share save 171 16 Its That Time of the Month
About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Aria gets it in UNDER THE NEVER SKY.

  2. Oh, and it’s also a big deal in FIRE by K. Cashore.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      Lenore, thanks for titles — and I haven’t read either of them (yet).

    • Karla says:

      UNDER THE NEVER SKY was a good example. Aria has been living in a utopian society where there is no need for menstruation. When she leaves (minor spoiler, but pretty obvious), the effect of the community wears off and she begins to transform into a normal woman.

      I think it’s way overused in FIRE. It’s an embarassment to the main character and they talk about it way too much. In most books I don’t think about girls getting their periods because I just think of it as life. I don’t need my coworker to announce when she has hers (even though she sometimes does), so I don’t feel the need for the story to pause every time a character gets hers.

  3. Kelly says:

    As suggested to us on Twitter, Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas has the main character getting hers, too.

  4. Heidi says:

    I think I see it mentioned more often as an excuse female characters use to get male teachers/adults/etc… to let them off the hook or get them out of class. Bring up “female problems” and you can apparently get out of anything!

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      ah, yes! I’ve seen that — and typically as a way of embarrassing the adult male into letting them out of class etc.

  5. Rebecca O'Connell says:

    Myrtle gets her period in Myrtle of Willendorf. http://www.namelos.com/myrtle-of-willendorf/

  6. Moïra says:

    I always wonder about this in dystopias/ epic fantasy journeys! With regard to dystopias, menstruation is mentioned in Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, but it’s explained that main character Daisy doesn’t get her period because she is anorexic. (Actually, menstruation is often mentioned with regard to eating disorders – I’m thinking here of Francesca Lia Block’s The Hanged Man or Echo where a return to monthly periods is a sign of recovery.) However, in Irish dystopia Valentina by Kevin McDermott, the main character gets hers while being kidnapped (which has to suck). It’s true that otherwise periods in YA seem to be conspicuously absent. Interesting discussion!

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      Oh, I remember that with Rosoff’s book. And great observation — the lack of getting ones period is mentioned in realistic fiction in terms of health (ie, not getting it). And thanks for the other titles — it looks like VALENTINA isn’t available in the US yet. But that is exactly the type of thing I was thinking of!

    • Kristin says:

      Another example of a girl’s period stopping for health reasons is in Code Name Verity. The journalist starts asking her questions about her health and Verity notes that her period stopped after she was taken captive. That information, among the other hinted revelations about Verity’s health made that scene incredibly chilling.

      • Elizabeth Burns says:

        Oh, I forgot about that! Yes, and I greatly appreciated it being included and how it was handled.

  7. blythe says:

    Vera Dietz –A.S. King did a beautiful job with tampons in that book.
    Polly Estes–The return of her period is both inconvenient (bears) and a sign that her body is recovering fron her long illness.
    I don’t pretend to be in King’s class, but shopping for tampons does reveal a lot about relationships.

  8. Els Kushner says:

    THE LONG SECRET, by Louise Fitzhugh, has a scene where Beth Ellen gets her period and another where she, Harriet, and Janie discuss the topic. And I read a book back in the ’70′s– I’m pretty sure it was SATURDAY THE TWELFTH OF OCTOBER, by Norma Fox Mazer– in which the main character time-travels to the prehistoric era and gets her period on her return (sort of a coming of age thing). Those are both *first* periods, though, which is a little diferent; have to think more to find examples of characters just menstruating as just part of their lives.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      speaking of back in the 70s: I know I read a book set in pre-WWII Germany, I think about a family that fled the Nazix, and there was a scene with the daughter getting her period & the mother (and aunts? extended family?) in the kitchen, boiling sanitary napkins.

  9. Heidi says:

    This has always bothered me!! Particularly as an avid fantasy fan. I’m currently reading Kathleen Duey’s Sacred Scars, which DOES deal with the female character having to endure her period while forbidden to leave a cave. Recently I read Bloody Jack, which had me laughing uproariously when Jackie Faber gets her period and is certain she is dying (as she’s pretending to be a ship’s boy and had NO females around to ask what’s happening to her).

  10. Bloody Jack mentions it in the first novel, then never again. I *believe* Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare talks about it, but that’s going way back, I may be wrong. Hush by Eishes Chayil talks about the ordeal Orthodox Jewish women have to go through because of it each month.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      I always realize just how much I forgot about what I read. I couldn’t remember which Bloody Jack book it was in; and really? Calico Captive back in the day? I’ll have to reread that. And yes, Hush. I should have remembered that.

      • RE: Calico Captive: I vaguely remember rags and gender separations, but I could be confusing it with another historical novel.

        And it’s amazing how much we forget. Unless I’m reading for a specific topic, it might not stick.

  11. Elizabeth Burns says:

    Via Twitter: From @imthelibrarian, “Eona The Last Dragoneye took herbs to repress her cycle. Just read If You Find Me by Murdouch and periods were a good thing.”

    From Karen at Teen Librarian Teenbox, Lost Girls by Ann Kelly

    From Jennifer Jazwinski, “On Fortune’s Wheel by Cynthia Voigt was one where it made a big impression on me as a kid. Washing out pads in a stream”

    And from Erica Barmish, Throne of Glass

  12. Aria getting her ‘first’ period in Under The Never Sky was one of my favorite scenes.

  13. A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer. This I know because it was a first time read as I was reading it aloud to my son. It was a bit surprising. I think he was in fourth or fifth grade. Memorable experience. We both loved the book, but that was completely not something we were expecting. :)

  14. Rebecca says:

    They discuss it once in Graceling (Kristin Cashore), and Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty (or was it Rebel Angels?) has a scene where the protagonist gets her first period at a public event while wearing a white dress. Pretty embarassing! Those are the only two I can think of that haven’t been mentioned already.

  15. Jen Robinson says:

    It’s not quite what you were looking for, but in Code Name Verity there’s a discussion about why the narrator isn’t having her period. This is also the case with Rachel Cohn’s Betas (clones are engineered not to menstruate)

  16. Piepie Beuttel says:

    Angela Elwell Hunt (a Christian/inspirational author) has written a series of books called the Heirs of Cahira O’Connor … the first book, The Silver Sword, comes to mind while reading this discussion. The main character, Anika, pretends to be a boy so she can be a soldier, and there is a scene where she is on her period and she is fighting another character – I believe she is knocked back into a bale of hay or something – and when she rises, there is blood on the ground.
    A great series of books, all of them!! :)

  17. Winnie gets her period in Twelve. All if the girls in the ttyl books deal with their periods at some point. Reminds me of Ramona’s question: but when did Mike Mulligan go to the bathroom?

  18. Katy says:

    It’s an extremely important plot point at the end of Shabanu by Suzanne Fisher Staples, as the protagonist hides it because she will be married off to a much older man once her parents know.

  19. Sondy says:

    In 2003, Erzsi Deak and Kristin Embry Lichtman edited a collection of stories about girls getting their first period, called Period Pieces. http://www.sonderbooks.com/ChildrensFiction/periodpieces.html

  20. Elizabeth Burns says:

    Thank you all for the additional titles: some of which I’ve read, others which I haven’t. It puts together quite a list!

  21. Molly says:

    In “Just As Long As We’re Together” by Judy Blume, the character Stephanie gets her period.

  22. Kay says:

    Dr. Franklin’s Island by Ann Halam mentions two characters not getting theirs due to near-starvation. I’m pretty sure it’s mentioned in the dystopia novel Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

  23. Jessica says:

    The Naming by Alison Croggon has a pretty memorable scene as well.

  24. Marsha Wall says:

    Soooooo needed such books when I was a young girl……….

  25. Tehani says:

    NEW PATCHES FOR OLD by Christobel Mattingley has a great scene on the protag getting her first period.

  26. Shelly says:

    Words That Start With B

  27. Laura says:

    If I remember correctly, it’s mentioned in Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson and Beauty Queens by Libba Bray.

  28. Anna says:

    “Coram Boy” by Jamila Gavin is an example of historical YA fiction that deals with this – including the fact that girls received far less information about it in those days, and how that affects the reactions of one character when her body starts doing this new thing that she didn’t realise it was meant to do.

  29. Kelly says:

    I’m reading RELISH by Lucy Knisley right now. It’s a graphic novel memoir, and she gets her period (realistic as hell, too, which is why I even came over to note it while mid-read).

  30. Alexandra says:

    Maerad gets her period for the first time in “The Naming” by Alison Croggon and continues to have her period throughout the quartet.

  31. Emmet says:

    All the girls in Sara Ryan’s Empress of the World get their periods. At the same time, even.

    John Green’s all about the menstruation. There’s the tampon string factory in Abundance of Katherines, Lacey’s tampons being listed among the assets on the road trip in Paper Towns, and Hazel being diagnosed very shortly after menarche in TFiOS.

    I think it’s a nice touch of realism, but I have to admit I don’t really notice its absence. Although I probably would if I read more questy adventure-type books where people were doing big epic things without the benefit of modern amenities. I mention them in the book I’m working on mostly to establish a certain level of intimacy between the characters. Talk-about-your-junk friends are a special important kind of friends.

  32. E says:

    Zahrah in Nnedi Okorafor’s Zahrah the Windseeker gets her first period, and it ties to her ability to begin flying. She later realizes in the book that she should be getting her period again.

  33. Liviania says:

    This is a totally odd one to remember, but the Wakefield twins first got their periods in The Twins Take Paris. I think all the other instances I remember have been mentioned.

    Oh wait! The upcoming Pantomime (Feb ’13) by Laura Lam deals with the intersexed main character getting his period. How could I forget that?

    The main time I see periods come up in YA, especially contemporary, is lines like, “Oh! Must be that time of the month!” after a girl does something emotional/mean/etc.

  34. I know it’s in the Tomorrow, When the War Began books because access to tampons is a problem since Australia’s been invaded and there aren’t stores and things, since the kids are hiding out in the bush (interestingly, this series is written by a man with a teen girl narrator).

    It’s also a catalyst for the plot in Nobody But Us (Kristin Halbrook).

    I seem to recall it in the Jessica Darling books, but I can’t remember the specifics.

    As a teenager, I know I read some books that featured characters getting their periods, but it didn’t make much of an impression on me–probably because my mom was pretty good about communicating about that kind of subject, so I didn’t seek out that information from other places.

  35. Eileen says:

    Real Mermaids Don’t Wear Toe Rings! It opens up with the MC getting her period for the first time and the awful awkward embarrassment that follows.

  36. Elizabeth Burns says:

    Thanks for all the additional titles! I was just reading THE FIFTH WAVE by Yancey and the main character (in a sort of post apocalyptic world) includes tampons as the must-include-in-her-backpack, as well as a worry about not running out. Its the type of scene I like; not a big deal, but acknowledging its a concern in a world without drugstores.

  37. Stephanie Wilkes says:

    Quarantine by Lex Thomas mentions that girls are hoarding tampons and using them as bargaining tools for food and other supplies.

  38. Vikki says:

    I am always on the lookout for mentions of menstruation. I included it in my first novel WORDS THAT START WITH B and have received fascinating feedback (mostly from boys) who had no idea what goes on.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      Two things, when i think about this & boys. One, the blog posts that I’ve read that say “of course” boys wouldn’t be interested in ARE YOU THERE GOD ITS ME MARGARET because it deals with menstruation and that is just “icky” to boys. Insert rant; I think you can imagine. Two, the TV show SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER which – despite its many flaws – had a teen boy going to the store to pick up stuff for his girlfriend, telling his icked out friend to grow up: if you cannot buy your girlfriend tampons, he said, you’re not ready to sleep with her.
      Anyway — thanks for the comment and for mentioning this post on Twitter!

  39. Ann says:

    In Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling books, Jessica’s so anxious, underweight, and obsessd with running that she hasn’t menstruated in months (which she hides from her mother, I think). When she sorts out her emotional problems, she gets her period as a sort of physical manifestation of that moment.

  40. Kellye says:

    I’m loving this topic. Like you, Liz, I’m also struck by how much I don’t remember about even books I loved. I wonder if there’s some kind of generational thing going on with this topic, too. For example, I think menstruation is discussed much more openly today than when I was a kid in the ’70s, so the kinds of info kids needed might have been greater then (although every family is different). When my son (now 16) was in 5th or 6th grade, I remember him coming home from a pool party and casually mentioning that a friend hadn’t gone swimming because she had her period. At that age I would have never told a boy that.

Speak Your Mind

*