Alice in April
by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
[#25 in my 75 book challenge]
(This will not be a spoiler-free review, because I have something to say about the ending that will spoil the book. If you want to skip the spoilers, the first two paragraphs and the final grade section of this review are spoiler-free.)
“The thing about seventh grade is that most of the time you’re sitting around waiting to see what’s going to happen to you.”
In the fifth book in the Alice series, Alice is still navigating the seventh grade. Her father is dating her language arts teacher, she feels pressure to be the woman of the house, and she wants to throw her father the perfect surprise birthday dinner party. Like always, Alice tackles her life with honesty and humor.
The topics in this book start to get a little heavy, and I sometimes I feel like Naylor had a list of topics to cover in each book. We see Alice visit the doctor for a physical (complete with wearing a hospital gown and a brief breast exam), domestic violence, and suicide in this one. We also see Alice freaking out over the anticipation of being named after a state by the boys in her grade level based on her breast development — a topic that would be a bit more controversial in 2012 than it might have been in 1993, since it seems to be treated very lightly by everyone involved in the story. Today the sexual harassment implications would be huge. The aspect of the story bothered me a bit because of the objectification angle. Overall, though, I liked the book as a part of the series and i’m ready to read on.
The first time I read this book, I don’t remember being terribly affected by it. But this time I cried when Denise committed suicide. I guess I didn’t know anyone in middle school suffering from depression or family abuse at that level, or at least I was unaware of it if it was going on. But I really felt for Denise and how Alice must have felt knowing that Denise had reached out to her. Denise’s odd behavior and gift were so terribly heartbreaking. I actually didn’t see it coming because I thought the suicide was either someone else or happened in a different book.
Also, I loved that Alice was named for North Carolina and we got to see some NC research. We see everything that these Maryland kids know about NC — Cape Hatteras, The Outer Banks, Mt. Mitchell, The Great Dismal Swamp, tobacco, and the Blue Ridge Mountains. I didn’t live in NC when I read this book years ago, so it was cool to read about my home state, even if it was in the context of Alice accepting the objectification by the boys in her grade.
FINAL GRADE: B If a book makes me cry, it automatically bumps up a grade. Like I’ve sad with the previous reads in the Alice series, it’s hard to judge them as individual novels so I’m judging them as part of a series. I highly recommend the series to adults, but I really recommend them constantly to my students. They are the perfect books for kids with questions and they really do grow up with the reader as the series continues.
“If I had to sum up seventh grade in seven words, they’d be, ‘There’s nothing you can do about it.'”
“Nobody lives happily ever after, Al. A lot of the time, maybe, but not all the time. Not even language arts teachers.”