Alice 101

Posted April 19, 2012 by Tara in Review /// 9 Comments

So I’ve been talking a lot about the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor lately as I’m re-reading my way through all of the books. However, I figured this series needs a little bit of explanation for those who are unfamiliar with what it’s all about and why I love it SO MUCH. So I’m writing you a post on Alice 101 as a primer on the series.

What Is It?

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor published the first Alice book in 1985, The Agony of Alice. Starting with book #3 (Reluctantly Alice) in 1991, Naylor has written and published one book every single year. Book #24, Alice on Board, comes out this May. The final book, Always Alice, will come out in May 2013.

The series starts with Alice in the sixth grade, and ends with Alice graduating from high school. The final book will tell what happens in Alice’s life in college through age 60. The reading level, length, and content all grow with Alice — so the earlier books are short, typical middle grades books. The later books are longer, more intense YA novels. In Alice’s high school years, there are three books for each year of school: summer, fall, and spring. Alice faces some of the issues herself, but mostly she experience things second hand: teen pregnancy, discrimination, divorce, death, etc.

When and Where

The series started in 1985 and ends in the current day, so some of the early books feel a bit dated. In general, though, Naylor tries to make the story “timeless” so as to appeal to readers for generations to come. Alice lives in Silver Springs, Maryland.

Characters

Though many characters come and go from Alice’s life, these are the major players throughout the series:

Alice McKinley — Alice is strawberry-blond and quite average. She’s shortish, not quite fat or skinny, intelligent but not a genius. She’s open-minded, awkward, and not afraid to ask questions. Throughout the series she spends a lot of time seeking female role models because she lost her mother to leukemia at age 5.

Pamela Jones — Alice’s best friend since 7th grade. Pamela is blond and boy-crazy, and not afraid to take risks. Sometimes she gets herself into trouble by getting involved in situations she’s not ready for.

Elizabeth Price — A beautiful brunette with creamy skin, Elizabeth is Catholic and sheltered. She’s scared of all things related to sex, bodily functions, and boys. She gets better as the series continues, but she is the most conservative of Alice’s friends.

Gwen Wheeler — Gwen first appears in #11, Alice on the Outside. She’s African-American, brilliant, and wants to be a doctor when she grows up. Over time she becomes best friends with Alice, Pamela, and Elizabeth.

Ben McKinley — Alice’s dad. He manages a music store called The Melody Inn. He is a sweet, gentle man who likes to write letters and has a master’s degree, but he is sometimes clueless on how to raise a teenage girl.

Sylvia Summers — Alice’s 7th grade language arts teacher who starts dating Alice’s dad when Alice sets them up in #4, All But Alice. Alice loves Miss Summers and desperately wants her to become her stepmom.

Lester McKinley — Alice’s older brother. He’s seven years older, and in college for much of the series. He’s a typical college guy, and dates several different women throughout the series.

Crystal Hawkins and Marilyn Rawley — Two girls that Lester dates through much of the series, and Alice sees both as female role models.

Aunt Sally — Alice’s mother’s older sister, who lives in Chicago and checks up on Alice’s family regularly. Aunt Sally is kind of old-school. Her daughter, Carol, is in her early twenties and Alice ADORES her.

Patrick Long — Alice’s main love interest throughout the series. He’s very, very smart and a talented drummer.

Why I Love It

I love Alice because she feels real. In developing a character over twenty five novels and watching her grow up, readers really see Alice change over time. A lot of the series focuses on Alice wondering when she’s going to grow up, what life is like for grown-ups, and how she’s going end up. As a teenager reading the book, I had the same questions. Watching Alice grow up was like watching an older sister go through life before I had to go through it myself. Alice’s personal thoughts often mirrored my own, especially when she thought things that I would never had admitted to my friends! I wouldn’t say I felt “alone” as a teenager, but she certainly made me feel more normal.

Naylor writes Alice as a very honest, imperfect character. She asks questions, makes mistakes, and tells it how it is (though sometimes quite awkwardly). The external thought process is just as important as the internal thought process in answering the questions about growing up.

I also like the Alice series because Naylor doesn’t shy away from real issues. These issues are a real part of growing up, and sometimes appear on kids’ radars earlier than we’d like — but that doesn’t mean kids don’t have questions! For example, Alice deals with a friend’s suicide in the seventh grade. She deals with issues about sexuality, racism, divorce, drugs, bullying, death, and the list goes on and on. Sometimes the topics feel a bit like an after school special, but I know I dealt with almost all of those in some capacity by the time I left high school. It’s reality. But Naylor also focuses on things I’ve rarely seen other authors focus on: teaching girls to be aware of their own anatomy, what sex feels like, female role models, how to put in a tampon, etc. Most of these moments are brief, but important. I know I learned a few things from Alice in my pre-teen years.

While I give most of the individual Alice books a B, the series as a whole gets an A+ from me. It is realistic and unafraid. The very fact that it’s one of the most challenge series of the past two decades, according to the American Library Association, should tell any reader that this is good stuff. I read the series in the late nineties, my students read the series today, and I hope my future daughter/niece reads them, too.

The Books

Here are the books in the series, in order, which links to my reviews of each:

  1. The Agony of Alice (all of 6th grade)
  2. Alice in Rapture, Sort of   (summer between 6th and 7th)
  3. Reluctantly Alice (7th)
  4. All but Alice (7th)
  5. Alice in April (7th)
  6. Alice In-Between (7th)
  7. Alice the Brave (summer between 7th and 8th)
  8. Alice in Lace (8th)
  9. Outrageously Alice (8th)
  10. Achingly Alice (8th)
  11. Alice on the Outside (8th)
  12. The Grooming of Alice (summer between 8th and 9th)
  13. Alice Alone (9th) (all in pink packaged as I Like Him, He Likes Her)
  14. Simply Alice (9th)
  15. Patiently Alice (summer between 9th and 10th)
  16. Including Alice (10th) (all in red packaged as It’s Not Like I Planned It This Way)
  17. Alice on Her Way (10th)
  18. Alice in the Know (summer between 10th and 11th)
  19. Dangerously Alice (11th) (all in blue packaged as Please Don’t Be True)
  20. Almost Alice (11th)
  21. Intensely Alice (summer between 11th and 12th)
  22. Alice in Charge (12th)
  23. Incredibly Alice (12th)
  24. Alice on Board (summer between graduation and college)
  25. Always Alice (age 18-60)

Tara

Tara is a PhD student studying education. Her dissertation will be on digital book communities as public pedagogy (ask her about it!), though she often takes a break from all of that to read books about oppressive governments and sassy teenagers. In a former life, she was a middle school teacher and middle school librarian. In her future life, she's a professor of YA lit. In her free time, she drinks a lot of coffee while planning her next grand adventure (there's always something).

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9 responses to “Alice 101

  1. WOW–I can certainly see that this Alice series deserves the American Library Association saying it is the most challenging series of the past two decades. Like you, I feel it is very important for teens to read books that deal with real life issues!

  2. […] In celebration of Banned Books Week, I’m posting a later review of an Alice book I read over the summer. The Alice series is one of the most banned series of all time, largely because of Naylor’s frank discussions of sexuality, religion, and other issues faced by Alice as she grows up (name an issue, Alice has faced it usually second-hand). You can read more about the Alice books at my Alice 101 post. […]

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