The Agony of Alice: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Agony of Alice by Phyllis Reynolds NaylorIn the world of children’s literature (and in recent years also YA), one name is mentioned above all others: Alice. To be specific, Alice McKinley–the intrepid heroine of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor‘s long running children’s/YA series.

The Agony of Alice is the debut novel of this series, originally published in 1985 and now out in a variety of reprints with myriad versions of cover art. Personally, I’d be more willing to consider Naylor’s prequel novel Starting With Alice (from 2002) to be the actual beginning of this series, but having read both either seems appropriate as an introduction to Alice’s world.

When this story begins, Alice is preparing to move with her father and older brother. As the family packs up, Alice remembers all of the embarrassing things she did in the years leading up to the move and also wishes that, just maybe, some people like Donald Sheavers and the milk man might disappear or suddenly develop amnesia to save Alice some of her embarrassment.

Of course, life doesn’t work that way, so instead Alice just has to keep moving forward in her new town as she tries to make new friends, find a new mother (Alice’s mother died when she was a young child), and earn a place on the coveted street patrol. Meanwhile, Alice has to decide whether she’s growing up properly or backwards, cope with the worst teacher in the entire grade, and figure out how to buy a pair of jeans. Sixth grade is going to be nothing if not exciting for Alice!

This is the kind of book where not many “major” things happen, it’s more like opening a window into Alice’s life. Happily that works. Alice is likable and entertaining. Naylor does a great job creating an authentic and readable voice in her first person narration. On a more minor note, it’s kind of fun to read the early books in the series that are set in the 1980s just to get little touches like the cassette tapes thrown in to make the setting authentic.

When I started The Agony of Alice I must admit that the book seemed a bit slow (as slow as such a short book can seem). That might have more to do with my usually reading crazy, action-packed fantasy novels. It might also have to do with my resistance to starting this series. Having done my time with sweeping series–the ones that go on for years and require a continued commitment to follow–I was hesitant to start another. Then I found out that the series would be ending when Alice turned eighteen and realized the end was in sight (Alice was already a high school junior in the latest installment). Plus, the book got more interesting the more I read which made me rethink my initial doubts.

Finally, Alice is a great character. Certainly Alice has her stumbles along the way, but she always gets up and dusts herself off. It’s a hard lesson to learn, so it’s nice to see a character in a children’s book who is already getting the hang of it.
Sound good? Find it on Amazon: The Agony of Alice

On not knowing your own strength

Try to avoid situations where this phrase becomes appropriate. More important, try to avoid situations where this phrase becomes apt while in front of your crush.

Case in point (I could say hypothetically, but that would be lying):

Upon exiting the computer lab, Che and I walked past none other than “Hades.” We were running late according to my own personal schedule. What that means is we were only going to be ten minutes early to class instead of fifteen. So, having finished with procuring food and resolving Che’s registration drama (I got the food, she fixed the problem) we were heading to class. Hades, upon learning he didn’t need to print anything, also left the lab to head to class.

I was the first one out of the stairwell, so I opened the door leading to the third floor. Usually the doors at school give some resistance. Not this one. I opened the door too fast, or too strongly, or something. The door slammed into the wall–the doorknob hitting the wall. There was a loud metallic clang that I feel certain was audible down the hall and, at the same time, several parts of the doorknob came loose and rattled lamely.

I was mortified.

Che and Hades were amused, but I was completely shocked and horrified. I kept looking back trying to confirm that it had really happened and much to my dismay, I was forced to conclude it had. I think I was the only one who still remembers the event, but wow. When Che and I left the door was still opened, presumably as a result of my wrenching it open accidentally earlier.

That was on Monday. Today I walked by the door again. It was still open. Part of the door mechanism was dangling on the handle between knob and door. It seems like the door will no longer close as a result of its own momentum. Worse, I went down the stairs and saw what may have been a washer from the door knob findings laying on the floor of the next landing.

In summary: Don’t break large doors in front of friends or crushes. You’ll regret it.