Thursday, September 8, 2011

MMGW - Throwback Thursday Edition #1: The Agony of Alice

Author: Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
First Published in 1985 by Aladdin (Simon & Schuster inprint)

Life, Alice McKinley feels, is just one big embarrassment. Here she is, about to be a teenager and she doesn't know how. It's worse for her than for anyone else, she believes, because she has no role model. Her mother has been dead for years. Help and advice can only come from her father, manager of a music store, and her nineteen-year-old brother, who is a slob. What do they know about being a teen age girl?

What she needs, Alice decides, is a gorgeous woman who does everything right, as a roadmap, so to speak. If only she finds herself, when school begins, in the classroom of the beautiful sixth-grade teacher, Miss Cole, her troubles will be over. Unfortunately, she draws the homely, pear-shaped Mrs. Plotkin. One of Mrs. Plotkin's first assignments is for each member of the class to keep a journal of their thoughts and feelings. Alice calls hers "The Agony of Alice," and in it she records all the embarrassing things that happen to her.

When I was looking for a couple of Throwback Thursday reads for our Magnificent Middle Grade Week, I wanted to read something I had never read before. The librarian in the children's room at my local library was very helpful in pointing out a few series that I missed in the 80's. The Agony of Alice first came out in 1985, so it was probably "too young" for me since I was in high school by then.

I really enjoyed this book. Alice reminded me of myself at age 11. Embarrassing things always seemed to happen to me and I was always wanted to disappear. Alice lives with her father and older brother who have no clue how to relate to a girl. Her father calls her "Al" and her brother doesn't know that jeans come in girls sizes as well as boys. Her relationship with her family makes for some amusing scenes, such as the time a younger Alice asks her brother what a period is after hearing some older girls talking about theirs. He tell her it looks like a comma without the tail and goes at the end of a sentence. That had me cracking up.

Alice learns a lot about being yourself over the course of her sixth grade year. She also learns that the outer package may be beautiful, but the inside can be very ugly. Not everything that is good comes in a pretty package. I think that any middle grade age girl would enjoy this one. Even though it was written in 1985, it is still relevant to today. They will be able to relate to the social awkwardness and pains of being a tween.

The Agony of Alice is the first in a series that follows Alice McKinley from middle school through high school. There are 3 "prequels", as well, that have Alice in elementary school. A visit to her website showed that Ms. Naylor is still writing Alice books and has 2 or 3 more planned. I like the idea of a series that a young girl can read as she moves from sixth grade through high school along with Alice. I know that the later books, when Alice is in high school, deal with more mature subjects. But, from what I can see by the synopses, they are subjects that a lot of high school kids deal with every day. I also found that the "Alice" series has been on the list for top 10 most challenged books in the 1990s and into the 2000s. Just that alone makes me want to read them all!

If you missed this series, give it a shot. If you are worried about content, read them before passing them on to your daughters. As I always say, use your own discretion.


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