Title/Author: The Agony of Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Genre: Middle Grade, Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, Humor, Coming of Age
Hardcover, 131 pages
How I Got This Book: Checked it out from my library
Book Jacket Blurb: “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.
Through the school year, Alice has lots to record. She also comes to know the lovely Miss Cole, as well as Mrs. Plotkin. And she meets an aunt and a female cousin whom she has not really known before. Out of all this, to her amazement, comes a role model — one that she would never have accepted before she made a few very important discoveries on her own, things no roadmap could have shown her. Alice moves on, ready to be a wise teenager.”
Alice is a 12-year-old girl with a plate full of all things middle school. She has recently moved to a new neighborhood with her dad and much older brother, Lester. She meets new friends, visits her dad at his music shop, and goes to school. And this is also the year that she really begins to grow up, and she feels alone in it. Her father, while loving and wonderful, knows nothing about shopping for bras or being a pre-adolescent girl. And worst of all, Alice finds herself in MANY awkward and embarrassing situations, including seeing the cutest boy at her school in his underwear at the department store.
This series begins with a sense of realism. Alice is the kind of character that every reader can relate to on some level and with some experience. Her story is everyone’s story. And therefore, it is extremely easy to relate to this story and Alice herself with emotional empathy. I think that is why I connected with this series when I was reading it in middle school, and why I can still connect to it as a graduate student. This is a timeless story that the reader can grow with, whether you are 12 or 25. That is the magic of good writing.
One of the things that really hits you hard about this book is Alice’s search for a mother figure. She arrives at school wishing and hoping for Miss Cole, the prettiest, most wonderful teacher of the 6th grade. But Alice does not get Miss Cole; Alice gets Mrs. Plotkin, a pear-shaped older woman who is the last teacher Alice wants. I think Ms. Naylor captured this realistic tendency to prefer people that are more attractive when you are younger. Miss Cole looks so cool and is young and vibrant, Alice tries with all her might to get into her class, but to no avail. Throughout the year, though, Alice learns an extremely valuable lesson–finding the good inside people that you don’t expect to find. Through staying late after school to help Mrs. Plotkin with her classroom, she realizes that Mrs. Plotkin is a kind, gentle woman who is there to support her. Honestly, this is a lesson that every individual learns when he or she is young, and I love the fact that Ms. Naylor depicts this important lesson in such a meaningful and emotional way.
After reading this book again, I am really excited to delve back into this series. This is a continuous story of a girl growing up, and this is one that has stuck with me for years. It is really cool to go back and experience again, and I am looking forward to seeing where Ms. Naylor takes this story.
My Bookshelf Rating:
So there is something about beginning a series that you loved when you were going through such awkward times such as middle school as a graduate student. As Alice enters the realms of adolescence, she finds herself looking for a mother to guide her. And what she realizes is that people can surprise you. This first book is a great introduction into some of the crazy hardships of moving, entering middle school, and growing up. What a great novel to grow up with, as Alice goes through many relatable scenarios. Love.
Love and Christmas Trees,