A Girl's Story

Bambara, Toni Cade

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction
Secondary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita
  • Date of entry: Oct-25-1996


What occurs when a young woman begins to menstruate and has had no preparation for it by her mother or anyone else? Toni Cade Bambara's fictive account illustrates how a normal event in the female life cycle is transformed by an uninformed child into a terrifying event. Rae Ann, whose mother died years ago, has been raised by her strict grandmother, a woman not inclined to talk about matters relating to sex.

While such ignorance seems unlikely in today's television society, the poignant and compelling story provides a useful introduction to discussion about crucial questions associated with growth and development and family behavior. Especially strong is Bambara's graphic portrayal of the physicality of menstruation and how an unprepared adolescent might respond; every female reader winces with understanding for behavior that is both humorous and full of pathos.


This story is superb for classes focusing on beginning-of-life issues because it demonstrates how conventional assumptions can be frustrated. The grandmother's reluctance to discuss sex is related to her own daughter's (Rae Ann's mother) death following a botched abortion. Instead of celebrating the arrival of womanhood with her uninformed, frightened, and confused grandchild, she is at first accusatory, able to recall only the bloody "sin" of her daughter and the death that followed. The story is strong, complex, and difficult to forget.

Primary Source

The Sea Birds Are Still Alive


Random House

Place Published

New York



Secondary Source

The Sea Birds Are Still Alive