Review: “Girl Stuff” by Kaz Cooke

Recommended Reading: Girl StuffKnowledge is power, and teenage girls who read Kaz Cooke’s Girl Stuff: Your full-on guide to the teen years will definitely be empowered. The book covers many aspects of growing up that are not only helpful but also necessary for young women to know.

Australian author Kaz Cooke is an old favourite of mine. I have read her fiction and non-fiction for the last 25 years. In more recent times, her pregnancy book Up the Duff and her toddler/preschooler guide Kidwrangling have been of use. Actually, out of all the baby and childrearing books I have had, Cooke’s are the only ones I have kept. You can probably guess from the titles that her books aren’t going to be ponderous tomes full of overbearing advice! She writes in an accessible way with a breadth of information presented with a large dash of humour. The cartoon illustrations, drawn by Cooke herself, perfectly complement her writing. This is all true for Girl Stuff too.

The book is full of information. There are 24 chapters grouped into four sections, each with its own theme: “Body,” “Head,” “Heart” and “Info to Go.” While researching the book, Cooke set up a website and received 4000 comments from girls and women on teenage-related topics, many of which are incorporated into the book. These comments from real teenagers provide insight into what other teenagers are feeling and experiencing. In other words, they communicate to the young reader: You aren’t alone.

Kaz Cooke doesn’t hide any facts and isn’t afraid of the truth. In the Drinking” chapter the (mostly negative) effects of alcohol are explained in detail, yet with a non-judgemental tone. Cooke writes that it’s not good to drink alcohol before the age of 20, as the brain is still developing. Also discussed are the bad judgements and risks one can make as a result of drinking, such as unprotected sex and violence. But it’s not all gloomy facts. The writer offers tips to deal with peer pressure and drinking, in a list titled: “Things to say when you’re not drinking (even if you’re fibbing),” such as: ‘‘I’m allergic to the preservatives in alcohol.” “My mum is going to call me soon.” “Not unless you want me to be sick all down your front.” These may be “fibs,” but they could also be lifesavers.

Chapter 15, “Sex,” is 39 pages long. It is very detailed, with such sub-headings as: “Becoming a sexual person,” “Deciding whether or not to have sex,” “Going all the way,” “Safe sex” (with six pages on sexually transmitted infections), “Sex and love” and “Contraception.” Gay readers are also included. The chapter’s content is explicit but not inappropriate. However I would recommend that you read it first to decide if it is suitable for your daughter. I imagine it would be too much information for a 12-year-old; perhaps it would be appropriate for girls aged 14 or 15 and up. What I can say is that the information in this chapter is what I’d like my daughter – and son for that matter – to know when they are ready.

Other topics in the book include: gaining confidence, being aware of the influence of advertising and marketing, the “F” word (feminism!), study tips, how to interact with your family and friends (e.g., conflict resolution), mental health, work, skincare and lots more. It is a comprehensive book at 519 pages, but the humour, cartoons and writing style make it friendly and accessible. Many Internet links for each topic are listed, as well as suggested books, films and even music.

Girl Stuff was originally published by Penguin in Australia, so that edition may come up when searching online. It has also been revised and published for the UK market by Rough Guides, Britain. To read excerpts from the book and to see the table of contents go to: http://kazcooke.com.au/.

The Rough Guide to Girl Stuff: Your full-on guide to the teen years, by Kaz Cooke. (Rough Guides,) 2009. (For the UK market)

The most recent edition is from 2013:
Girl Stuff: Your full-on guide to the teen years, Kaz Cooke, (Penguin Books Australia.) 2013.

Update 2017: There’s also a Girl Stuff 8 – 12 book for younger readers published in 2016. Link.

by Andrea Snashall

Andrea grew up in Australia and has been living in Switzerland for over 12 years. She has two primary-aged children and many pet fish which keep having babies.

This review previously appeared in 2012 in the printed version of Mothering Matters.

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