The webcomics blog about webcomics

Fleen Book Corner: Go With The Flow

Well, last week certainly sucked, but I’m back in the swing of things, and eager to talk about some books with you. First up: Go With The Flow by Lily Williams (words and pictures) and Karen Schneemann (also words). A review copy — that is, an advanced, not-final-version-of-the-book review copy, so your reading experience may be slightly different than mine — was sent by the fine folks at :01 Books a few weeks back, just as release day was happening. I took the unusual step of waiting to write this review until I could discuss the book with somebody else (more on that in a moment), so for once what you’ll read here is not based solely on my reading and interpretation. Oh, and spoilers ahead.

This is a book about periods; having never had one, I talked with my wife at some length about her experience with the topic, through the lens of several dozen years of having periods, to be sure that I wasn’t missing anything important. She assures me that GWTF gets it right, particularly its emphasis on the fact that no two period-havers¹ experience menstruation the same way. The framing story — high school, friends, mean girls, jerk bros, institutional sexism, screwing up and apologizing, crushes, and the rest of what it means to be a teen — provides a structure to hang the information on, without anything seeming preachy or lecturey.

Except for when it’s meant to. To the extent that there’s a single POV character in the circle of four besties, it’s Abby, the artsy, headstrong who sees something wrong and wants to do something about it. She’s joined by Brit (literary, reserved), Christine (blunt and sometimes inappropriate to hide her capital-F Feelings), and Sasha (new in school, picked on by the Mean Girls)². They’re all mad that period supplies are rarely stocked in the bathrooms (and when they are, they cost money³), but it’s Abby that cajoles (and sometimes browbeats) the others into her protests and letter-writing.

Abby’s assumptions that her friends feel about things as strongly as she does precipitates the big conflict moment in the story, and puts those friendships at risk. This part read particularly true, because we all ow that as teens, we don’t think through the consequences of our actions on those we care most about — oh, and she gets in trouble with Principal Condescending, too.

The crux of the story isn’t defeating institutional sexism — or even the localized, petty kind — but rather finding a way past that screw up. The fact that Abby’s Big Moment Of Protest resulted in positive notoriety and funding for period supplies throughout the district is less important than the fact that she grew as a person (not the mention the fact that she shouldn’t have had to go crowdfunding in the the first place).

And although Abby’s campaign for period justice forms the central plotline of the book, all four characters get their own time in the spotlight. Sasha adjusts to the new school with the help of her friends, and has the most typical social experience of sophomore year — first relationship, first experience with dating, etc. Brit deals with endometriosis and the time it keeps her from school, but is lucky enough to have supportive parents (at least one of whom is a doctor) and treatment by a specialist that hopefully knows what they’re doing4. Christine deals with an older dude negging the shit out of her in trying to scam his way to a physical relationship (and being too smart for his crap) while also dealing with her confusion over her own sexuality and her feelings for Abby5.

All of which is a lot to deal with in 330 pages or so, but Go With The Flow is more than up to the challenge of telling the story of friendships and periods, while simultaneously providing quality, truthful information about menstruation and more6. Oh and the art is inviting, with clear lines and distinct character silhouettes; there’s a variety of human shapes, sizes and ethnicities and nobody reading the book need feel it’s not for them.

I recommend it for anybody that’s having periods, had them in the past, can be expected to have them in the next couple years, or who knows anybody in any of the other categories; let’s say ages 10 and up. It’s available now via your local bookstore or comic shop.

Spam of the day:

The two-finger trick, called the “Death Touch”, was invented by a Chinese Kung Fu Master and it allows anyone, no matter their physical strength or condition, to bring down an attacker just by poking him in a vulnerable spot.

You’re talking about the junk, right? Just say you’re smacking somebody in the junk.

¹ The book both acknowledges and honors the experience of gender non-conforming and trans folk with respect to periods, and notes that some trans women can develop hormonal cycles that mimic period symptoms

² You can meet adult versions of them in The Mean Magenta, the webcomic that Schneemann and Williams started to discuss periods, and which became the basis for the book.

³ The rather condescending principal who explains to Abby that no there’s no money to stock the supplies in the bathroom and it’s not like the boys get free jock itch cream refuses to acknowledge that this is a hygiene issue, and he’d never not think about stocking toilet paper. He dodges the question of why the football team got new uniforms and equipment after only two years if there’s no money in the budget.

4 If you follow Williams on her twitterfeed, she’s open about her own experience with endometriosis, and the shamefully poor understanding of it that doctors — even OB/GYNs! — have of the condition and its treatments. It took Williams fourteen years to get a diagnosis and it looks like Brit will be far luckier in that regard, but the story ends without a definitive solution for her. The webcomics of adult Brit indicate that she’s mitigated the worst of her symptoms, but still way the heck over at one end of the menstrual experience spectrum.

5 Like Brit’s endometriosis and Abby’s quest for gender equality, Christine’s story isn’t resolved by the end of the book. She pines, Abby doesn’t notice, Brit does, but they don’t come out and talk about it. Again, Williams and Schneemann really get what Teens and Feelings are like, and capture the awkwardness of trying to figure out who you are with laser clarity.

Judging by the adult versions of the characters from The Mean Magenta, Christine found a way to accept her feelings and keep her friendship with Abby. Oh, and Sasha appears to have a type — the dude she’s with in The Mean Magenta has a pretty strong resemblance to the first high school boyfriend from GWTF. I’m pretty sure it’s not the same dude, but maybe?

6 I came to the book prepared to learn a lot and found as I went along that my sex education back in school was pretty good. Granted, transgender and gender non-conforming people didn’t really come up but I would have been getting that information from about 1978-1985. I will say that there was some remarkably non-judgmental content back then about gay and lesbian people, and at least an acknowledgment of prominent individuals that had undergone what was termed sex reassignment (rather than gender confirmation) surgery.

I was lucky to grow up in a window of time post-sexual revolution, pre-Moral Majority culture wars, when truthful information was seen as the best way to deal with the still-new AIDS epidemic. Also, thank glob, I grew up in New Jersey. I had to explain the mechanics of human reproduction to more than one of my classmates when I got to college in Indiana, after there was a spate of sudden, unplanned marriages amongst dudes on my freshman dorm floor and their first girlfriends away from home.

RSS feed for comments on this post.