From Publishers Weekly
A longtime interest in the mysteries of womanhood led journalist Alter to collect "first time you" anecdotes from women of all ages. Here, in 11 chapters (e.g., "First Frog: Kissing, Warts and All"; "First Flash: Candy from a Stranger-Porn, Dirty Books, and Obscene Phone Calls"), she presents bite-size chronicles of the transition out of girlhood innocence. As Alter writes, "The more intimate the admission, the more resonant my reaction." True, and potency is doubled when the story from the past is tied into the subject's current life: a subscription to the New Yorker delighted its recipient at age 16and still does at age 78; a woman enthralled by pornography as a preteen is now a publicist in the adult entertainment industry; five years on, another woman still fondly values her brief, no-strings affair with her college ethics professor. Alter also chronicles-intentionally or not-an informal history of women's social evolution: she reveals the mindsets of mothers in "the generation that never talks about anything," fervent aspirations toward feminine vanity, rejections of being a "cute little girl" seeking matrimony. There's something here for every woman reader to identify with and be moved by, although after the relative pleasantries of the first 10 chapters, the final one, "First Farewell," may perturb readers with its theme of death. But this is the chapter that brings the collection full circle. As the final story explains, part of losing innocence is the discovery that "everyone has holes in their heart, and you still live."
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Journalist Alter doesn't limit her collection of women's true stories to the "baby steps to womanhood." Instead, this compendium of women's voices includes experiences from all stages of life; in addition to stories of first bras, first periods, and first kisses are tales of first divorce, first witnessed death, and a first sense of shattering the professional glass ceiling. Loosely organized into categories, the entries, representing girls and women in a wide range of professions and ages, are refreshingly honest, revealing the speakers' dysfunctional families, private disappointments, secret shames, and even terrifying abuse. And there are the hilarious, lighter reminiscences as well: the mechanics of making out with braces, for example. With so many topics covered by such brief entries, Alter's collection lacks some cohesion. But the stories are plainly told, raw, and affecting, and readers will be deeply moved by these authentic female voices that speak about experiences that touch us all. Gillian EngbergCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved