Guide book answers familiar questions


JUST IN CASE your middle-school daughter isn't in a sexual relationship with a 23-year-old. Just in case she doesn't need to go shopping for birth control.

In the event that your 10- to 14-year-old girl isn't coming out of drug rehab, isn't in treatment for an STD and isn't playing oral sex games at parties.

Just in case your daughter is only worried about getting her period, or her first bra. In the event that her big heartache is the fact that her best girlfriend dumped her. And on the outside chance that her big crush is a Backstreet Boy, I have the book for her -- and you.

It is called "The Girls' Life Guide to Growing Up," and it is a compendium of all the best advice the magazine Girls' Life has offered in the six years since it first appeared on newsstands.

"We are getting new readers all the time," says editor Karen Bokram from the magazine's Baltimore headquarters, where she oversees a circulation of about 400,000. "And since they didn't get a chance to see some of the best stuff we have done, we decided to put it all in one place."

The book, available in the major chains this week, solves a problem for the staff at Girls' Life. The magazine receives 250 to 300 pieces of mail every day except Monday, when the mail drop might hit 700 letters and e-mails. The girls are asking about the same subjects: periods, bras and best-friend troubles.

"There are certain subjects that we did a really good job on, and those are the questions we get: 'I need a bra, and I don't want to ask my mom.' 'My best friend dumped me.' 'When will I get my period?' 'My parents are getting a divorce,' " says Bokram. "But those articles have already appeared, and we don't write about them every month."

The book can be the bedside resource for the girls who are just signing up for the pre-teen roller-coaster ride. (The articles are also archived on the magazine's Web site,

Though first period, first bra, first dance and first crush remain the staples of young girl angst, some things have changed in the six years of Girls' Life's life, Bokram says.

"Girls used to be worried that they'd be kidnapped like Polly Klaas. Now they want to know if their chat room buddy is a pervert or if someone will be shooting up their school.

"But most of the questions we get are pretty predictable."

Bokram said she made a decision to leave the hard-core sex issues to other books, just as Girls' Life leaves it to other magazines. The book is a reflection of that editorial policy.

"We have written about the dangers of drugs and the dangers of huffing," says Bokram, "but we are not a magazine for the girl who is sexually active."

"The Girls' Life Guide" is not a book of adults lecturing young girls, either.

Bokram can ace any pop-culture quiz you throw at her, but she is a thirty-something, so she brought on board as a co-author then-16-year-old Alexis Sinex.

In her introduction, Sinex recalls from her very recent past that she turned to girlfriends, not mother types, when she felt lost.

"My friends were just as lost as I was," she writes, and everybody was reading magazines, looking for direction. "We hoped we'd find the magic answers to all our questions."

Bokram generously concedes that the best answers are from readers themselves, and she hopes the book will reinforce the voice a girl hears in her own heart.

"Truthfully, for as much advice as someone else can give girls, they often already have the best answers," Bokram writes in her introduction to the book. "It's my hope that after reading this book, girls will feel confident in dealing with the tough stuff."

By tough stuff, she means how to make up with a friend after a blow-up, how to reclaim the spotlight from a superstar sibling, shyness solutions and "straight talk on braces."

This book answers questions for parents, too. I think we are all worried that our daughters are chatting with monsters online, or that someone will arrive at school armed to the teeth. And stories about middle-school sex parties scare us into thinking that we don't know our own children.

A look through the table of contents of "The Girls' Life Guide," can reassure parents that the world has not gone crazy and taken our daughters with it.

"Quiz: What does your room say about you?"

"Babysitting: It's more than TV dinners and talking on the phone."

"You're Moving! How to survive."

"You're not sick, you're not crazy. You're crushed!"

If these are the things our girls fret about, maybe there is hope that we can get through adolescence together. Because these things sound an awful lot like what we fretted about ourselves.

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