In celebration of Women’s History Month, we spoke to the author about her debut novel, Free Period.

Author Q&A with Ali Terese

michelle pastor  //  Mar 27, 2024

Author Q&A with Ali Terese


Ali Terese’s debut novel Free Period tells the story of eighth-grade dynamic duo Helen and Gracie, whose friendship is as impactful as it is inspiring. When their commitment to stellar pranks lands them in the principal’s office, they’re ordered to care about something – leading them to their school’s Community Action Club and a sparked interest in period equity. In celebration of Women’s History Month, Ali spoke to us about the pair’s creative campaign to advocate for maxi pads in all school bathrooms for all students who menstruate – and the many resources she’s developed to help us all create change in our communities.

Gracie and Helen have an incredible friendship, even with its challenges. What did you want to convey to readers about going through the process of finding your own voice while supporting your friends?

Helen and Gracie are best friends because they see and value what everyone else misses. Gracie sees that under Helen’s anger and pranks is a girl full of love who can’t figure out how to do what is expected of her in a world controlled by strict rules. And Helen knows that while others think Gracie as scattered, she is truly a person that tries to make everyone feel valued and included even if that means going in a billion different directions at once. But they’re at this scary point in their lives where pressures from home, school, and their own choices lead to less time together. I hope Helen and Gracie give middle grade readers an example of how your friendship can become even stronger when you’re figuring things out rather than drifting apart or going through a painful friendship breakup.

Period equity is a major issue globally, with a lack of access to period products linked to anxiety and depression, missed classes, and more – but characters like Ethan’s dad highlight the stigma around periods and the struggle to be taken seriously. What message do you want to share with kids who may feel isolated or vulnerable?

The number one message is that you are not alone; all those feelings you’re having are totally understandable and shared by so many people even when they’re not comfortable talking about them. From your local community to the global stage, there are students like you and their allies who want to make sure you get the care that you need. For every dud like Ethan’s dad who thinks that periods are a “girl” and “personal responsibility” issue, there are many more people who know that period care is a human right that affects everyone and that period products are no more luxuries than toilet paper and soap. Period equity in the United States is one of the best examples of how collective action by students can change the way we live in this country. We’ve gone from students sharing products with each other while demanding change to half the states in our nation taking some sort of action all because young people are standing up and demanding care, dignity, and education around menstruation. I am so thankful for this youth-led movement and can’t wait to see what they do next.

Crafts play a big role in this novel. What interests you about craftivism, and what does it tell us about Gracie and Helen?

A wise and teensy person once said to me, sometimes things are just easier to talk about when they’re yarn. Crafting brings monumental problems down to a tactile experience we can directly interact with. It also humanizes issues that can be easy to dismiss when they’re numbers on a spreadsheet. Gracie and Helen feel like they’ve never been listened to because they say things in glitter and cupcakes and performance and pranks. But in FREE PERIOD, it is those very antics that get people laughing and feeling more welcome in fighting for menstrual care, an issue that can feel tough to discuss. I hope this book reminds young readers that whatever they love to do in life already, they can turn that interest or skill into a tool for change. Their advocacy doesn’t have to be fancy or formal; it truly can be fun!

The book shows how people with different personalities can each use their unique strengths to make change together. Are you more of a chaos monster or a binder activist?

I am a cheese monster with an intense devotion to color-coded tabs. Seriously, though, as someone who has been making yarn creations and drafting three-point arguments for decades, I always thought it would be the latter that would make the most difference on health equity issues I cared about. But it has been FREE PERIOD, my writing, the crochet uteruses, the Tampretzels, and the like that have led to me speaking with thousands of people across the country about the need to bring periods out of the shadows and into our daily lives, treating pads as necessities the same way we do for toilet paper and soap. We need advocacy in all its forms while we’re creating change so that our systems of power include everyone and your voice is heard in whatever form it takes. 

Your website has a robust - and fun - collection of resources and activities. How did you come up with these ideas? Have you gotten any feedback or pictures from kids who are using them?

My goal was to create fun, high-interest activities that would connect with existing social-emotional learning and civics curricula to bring all the ways that FREE PERIOD’s characters address conflict analysis and dispute resolution into the real world, but with fart jokes of course. There are also lots of crafts, all with a DIY vibe designed specifically for 8-12-year-olds, because sometimes when we’re busy creating in community it is a lot easier to be in conversation together. So far the feedback has been incredible. Young readers are making and trading FREE PERIOD bead bracelets all over the country while chatting about change, and educators and librarians have loved the Conflict & Empathy Lesson with its activities and discussion questions. One of my favorite examples has been a bookstore that created an event to bring students whose middle school needs products together with the local non-profit working on this issue in conversation around FREE PERIOD and making assorted shenanigans together. I can’t wait to see where educators and students take this book next!