cover image Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation

Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation

Susan Kim, Elissa Stein. St. Martin's Griffin, $27.99 (271pp) ISBN 978-0-312-37996-4

Written like a sassy young women's magazine with first-person narrative and the occasional astonished exclamation point, a normally taboo topic claims attention with the surprising-and sometimes horrifying-history of cultural reactions to menstruation (Pliny believed menstrual blood was toxic to flora and fauna), feminine ""hygiene,"" and the enticing yet under-researched future of period-free birth control methods. Sprinkled throughout with entertainingly naïve ads from each era of the 20th-century as well as many references to scientific findings, author and graphic designer Stein and Kim, a graphic novelist (Circle of Spies) and writer of the play adaptation of The Joy Luck Club, evoke a light-hearted tone about their serious subject. They cover everything from menarche to menopause, including what menstruation is (which receives an outstandingly clear explanation) plus an enlightening discussion of the pad v. tampon debate, which at bottom was a sophisticated marketing strategy. Perfect for a preteen's introduction to adulthood and for women of all ages, this is guaranteed to spark conversation about old early sanitary technology (belts and pins), the pad's evolution, during WWI, when nurses found cellulose bandages more absorbent than plain cotton, and whether this universal female experience is a blessing, a curse-or just part of life.