Becca Reads


MotherTalk Blog Tour: Cycle Savvy

When the savvy women at MotherTalk put out a call for moms and their teen or pre-teen daughters who wanted to participate in the blog book tour for Toni Weschler's new book, Cycle Savvy: The Smart Teen's Guide to the Mysteries of Her Body, I jumped on the bandwagon immediately. I am one of the legions of sworn adherents to Weschler's first book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility, without which, I am quite certain, we would not have the pleasure of E. And I'm the sex-positive, pro-communication mom of a pre-teen daughter who is definitely interested in what's happening to her body. So we signed right up, the book arrived right on time, and here we are.

I have to say right off the bat: pre-teen, not so much. M was initially taken by the cartoons, the quotes from actual teens, and the first factoid which is that you actually come into being inside your grandmother's uterus (you'll have to read it yourself to find out why). But after sitting down with the book three times, M ultimately pronounced it "boring," her code word for things she can't handle as well as things that bore her, and "too old for me," which makes sense, given that Weschler herself says it's targeted for14-18 year olds, and their issues--and bodies--are quite different from ten year olds' (for the younger set, I hope the blog book tour powers that be will not take it amiss if I slip in a quick plug for The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls--yes, it's American Girl, but two of my smartest, coolest friends with slightly older daughters swore by it, and when things started to, shall we say, develop, I got it for M and she devoured it and still rereads it, as is her wont--it's a chatty, humorous, appropriately explict account of puberty and its consequences: a solid precursor to Cycle Savvy).

After M put the book down for good, I picked it up, and I was impressed. Those who are already aficionados of TCOYF, as Weschler's first book is colloquially known, know that her thing is helping people to understand all facets of the menstrual cycle (did you know your temperature goes up when you ovulate? how about that stuff in your underpants--know what it is?). Reading that book was a total eye-opener for me at 35--and I read the first edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves when I was ten, so it's not like I started out hopelessly uninformed. Weschler explains in her preface that she wrote Cycle Savvy because the most consistent response to TCOYF is women wishing they'd learned all this earlier, even been taught it as teenagers. So in Cycle Savvy, she does just that: teaches it to teenagers.

The book definitely aims for its target audience: it's got jokes, asides, sidebars, quizzes, pictures, and lots of italicized quotes from teens and former teens. Amidst all that teen magazine design, it packs in loads of great information--not just the details of the menstrual cycle and how to chart it, but what to expect at your first ob-gyn appointment, how to recognize and deal with PMS, first-time stories, birth control methods. Tone is hard, and I'm not a teenage girl, so I can't say if Weschler hits it (now I wish I'd grabbed my oh-so-teenage niece last night at our Hanukkah party and asked her to give it a skim), but I thought she struck a good balance between chatty and serious, humorous and informative. It seems like the kind of book a girl might resolve to skim and only look at the fun stuff, but then get seduced into reading the complicated parts (hormones, luteal cycles, and the like).

The one thing that makes me sad about the book (I've searched for the right adjective and sad, I think, is it), is the way contemporary mores force Weschler to equivocate more than I sense she wants to about teenage sexuality. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of realistic, positive rhetoric and information, from first-person stories of teens who regret being pressured into sex (and first-person stories of teens who had great first experiences) to descriptions of how different birth control methods work. But the goal of TCOYF is, as the title states, to help women take charge of their fertility, whether they want to avoid or facilitate getting pregnant, and that book helps you use all your newfound knowledge for precisely that purpose, via the Fertility Awareness Method. Apparently, though, urging teens to chart their cycles so they know when they are or aren't fertile is way too edgy in this abstinence-only climate, so in the "Note to Moms" Weschler provides feeble reassurance that this isn't her goal, and later on she gives similarly weak rationales for charting (so you won't be surprised by your period on a trip to the beach! so you can tell if you have an infection!). Like I said, I don't fault her for this, and she is pretty brave to include a lot of the material she does, and HarperCollins deserves kudos for publishing the book at all; it just makes me sad, once again, that we have come to this.

All in all, then, thumbs up from me, and I think in a couple of years, M will be glad to rediscover this one on her shelf.


  • Funny you mentioned the AG book as a precursor. I've got my copy ready and waiting for my daughter, 9, who has already broswed it and thought "maybe in another year". I'm in no major rush to get this info to her but I also don't want her to be in the dark. I trust we'll know together when it's time.

    I'll be giving my take on Cycle Savvy tomorrow at Mother May I.

    By Blogger tracey, at 7:14 PM  

  • Thank you for your thoughtful review of my book. I did want to address the one issue that saddened you. I only wish that you could have been a part of the incredibly spirited and at times contentious discussions that my co-author brother Raymond and I had regarding the very issue that I believe you alluded to: whether or not to include the actual rules of the Fertility Awareness Method so that girls would know when they can and cannot get pregnant.

    After much discussion with not only my brother but numerous others in the field and general public, I came to the conclusion to NOT include the rules for the following reasons:

    A teen’s lifestyle is so erratic and busy that it would be really unlikely that she would have the consistency to be able to properly chart.

    Even if they were completely responsible and did indeed chart their signs, they wouldn’t necessarily be able to interpret their charts.

    Even if they were able to accurately interpret their charts, they wouldn’t necessarily be assertive enough with a boy to tell him that they had to abstain from sex during their fertile time.

    Even if the boy was sensitive enough to not expect them to have sex at any time, they should not be having unprotected sex anyway, given the huge potential today to contract a sexually transmitted infection which could compromise their fertility or even kill them.

    And finally, and this is the part that really saddens me, given today’s political abstinence-only climate, I didn’t want the school systems to have an excuse to prevent the book from being discussed in high schools.

    So I hope that this gives you more of a window into my thought process while considering what to include in the book.

    With hopes that your daughters M. and E. ultimately have the privilege of knowledge as teenagers that we ourselves were never given when we were their ages,

    Toni Weschler

    By Blogger Toni, at 3:16 PM  

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