You could say that Alice McKinley (not to be confused with Alice MacLeod) has a bit of a cult following at my current place of employ. So maybe it was just a matter of time before I too got sucked in.
A word on the series before I start the review: Phyllis Reynolds Naylor began the Alice series with The Agonies of Alice in 1985. In that book Alice is 11 and starting sixth grade. She has just moved and started at a new school. Since then, Naylor has been writing a new Alice book approximately every year which certain librarians have pointed out has strong addictive qualities. Until about 2002, the books ran linearly. Then Naylor did something different, she wrote three prequel novels talking about Alice as a third, fourth, and fifth grader weaving in stories that Alice had previously reflected on in other books in the series. Starting With Alice (2004) is the first of these prequels (followed by Alice in Blunderland and Lovingly Alice). I like to read linearly whenever possible so, after reading The Agony of Alice and finding out about these prequels I decided to read the series straight through in terms of Alice’s age instead of publication date (the series is supposed to end when Alice turns 18 and is already well-grounded in the Young Adult genre at this point).
Now that that’s settled, let’s talk about the actual book.
Alice, her father, and her older brother have just moved into a new house. Alice’s first friend on the block is Donald Sheavers, her weird neighbor. Along the way, Alice makes other, less weird, friends. And also attracts some unwanted attention from one of the street patrol girls. It’s not always easy being Alice. I can’t say much more about the story without revealing everything. This book is more about Alice’s day-to-day life as she tries to fit in and make friends than about any huge event.
Alice narrates in the first person. As a result, the novel is conversational and pretty mellow. Alice is a cool girl, even though she doesn’t think so, and her narration is endearing. Naylor strikes the perfect balance here. Alice’s voice is consistent with her debut novel, but she does sound younger–without being annonyingly young.
Alice also demonstrates that, although she’s only eight, it’s never to early to develop a strong character. In the novel Alice makes new friends and stands up to bullies among her other wonderfully positive characteristics. I don’t know that children read books about children in search of role models, but if they do Starting With Alice definitely offers up a good one.
In terms of when to read this book, I think it would work either way. I enjoyed reading it already knowing about Donald Sheavers and an unfortunate poem written to the milkman. But readers could definitely read this without knowing anything about Alice and enjoy it just as much.