The Fashion Committee: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Find something that makes your heart sing and your brain expand, and let it carry you past all the ugliness and low spots.”

“Measuring someone is borderline invasive. You have to touch them and record their physical presence in the world. It’s a pretty specific way to understand someone.”

Charlie Dean lives and breathes fashion and she strives for style in all things. John Thomas-Smith is a metal sculptor and he could not care less about clothes. They have one thing in common: they desperately want the chance to attend the Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design on full scholarship.

When Green Pastures announces that this year’s scholarship will be awarded to a fashion design student, Charlie thinks the stars have finally aligned to make her dreams come true. John, meanwhile, is disappointed that the scholarship isn’t for metalwork but he also knows that fashion is a joke. How hard can faking his way into the competition really be?

Charlie and John have nothing in common except for art and ambition. They are both determined to win and they won’t let anything stand in their way. Not a soul-killing job at Salad Stop or an unsympathetic girlfriend. Not a dad’s girlfriend’s drug-addicted ex-boyfriend. And definitely not a very minor case of kidnapping.

Two very different artists. One life changing competition. And only one winner in The Fashion Committee (2017) by Susan Juby.

Find it on Bookshop.

Although set in the same world as The Truth Commission, Juby’s latest novel is a standalone contemporary with an entirely new cast of characters (and illustrations by Soleil Ignacio).

This epistolary novel features alternating chapters from Charlie and John’s fashion journals written over the course of the competition. Charlie’s sections each start with one of her signature bright ideas (“Dress for the life you want!”) while John’s sections finish with quotes from the fashion industry and his own scathing indictments. Although Charlie and John often share physical space, their narratives have little overlap as the plot focuses on their own paths through the competition from developing their concepts and designing their garments to the final fashion show.

Juby introduces two very different characters in The Fashion Committee. Charlie Dean has been curating and shaping her own persona from a very young age. She values fashion above most else and she believes in deliberate sartorial choices to create a facade to present to the world. Charlie uses that facade to offset some of the things she’d prefer to forget like her father’s struggle with drug addiction. John, meanwhile, considers himself a straight shooter with a hard knock upbringing. He is very aware of the privileges of those around him (especially those attending Green Pastures) but turns a blind eye to his own good fortune being raised by two loving and conscientious grandparents. Despite their differing opinions of fashion (and almost everything else), Charlie and John’s journeys mirror each other well with a variety of ups, downs, and even a littler romance for both protagonists.

Charlie and John both have to deal with some stereotypes and preconceptions about themselves and, through meeting the unique group of students competing in the fashion show, they also learn to acknowledge their own biases. Does everything go perfectly in The Fashion Committee? No. Not even with Charlie’s efforts to impose beauty and positivity on the world through sheer force of will or John’s deliberate choice to always expect the worst.

The Fashion Committee is a thoughtful novel about fashion, privilege, and perspective where Charlie and John learn to appreciate what they have and also strive to get what they deserve. A must-read for fashionistas of all levels of expertise and anyone who seeking a book that will leave them laughing. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Black Friday: The Collapse of the American Shopping Mall by Seph Lawless, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Flannery by Lisa Moore, Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection, Volume 1 by Hope Nicholson (editor), Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, D. V. by Diana Vreeland, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Be sure to check out my interview with Susan about this book too!

Author Interview #2: Susan Juby on The Fashion Committee

I have been a fan of Susan Juby’s books since I read her debut novel in 2004. After falling in love with Susan’s writing all over again in The Truth Commission, I was thrilled to hear The Fashion Committee would return to the world of Green Pastures. I’m happy to have Susan back for another interview about The Fashion Committee.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for The Fashion Committee? When did you know that you had more stories to tell about Green Pastures?

Susan Juby (SJ): There were three distinct inspirations for The Fashion Committee. One came from a story told to me by a woman who used to be a drug dealer. One night she was in a drug house and when she was looking for a bathroom she opened a door and found a preteen girl in a preternaturally tidy and nicely decorated bedroom. The girl was sitting at her desk, quietly doing her homework. The girl and her room were as orderly and calm as the rest of the house was disordered and dangerous. That image stuck with me and made me think about how some kids can transcend brutal home lives.

The second inspiration was my own history as a fashion college drop-out. I wanted to be a costume designer for film and TV, but lacked the discipline and single-minded focus that seemed to be required. (I lacked quite a few other things as well.) I was both alarmed and envious that some of the students didn’t think about anything except fashion.

The third inspiration was a This American Life story called Three Miles. https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/550/three-miles It’s about kids in an underfunded public school who go on a tour of an expensive private school. When I was younger I struggled with class resentment, even though I lived in a place where most everybody was working class. It would have blown my mind and not in a good way if I’d been taken on a tour of a school catering to super wealthy kids. I still struggle with the systemic unfairness that limits the opportunities for low income kids in North America.  Before I finished The Truth Commission, which is set at the same school, I already knew I wanted to write about aspiring fashion designers.

MP: The Fashion Committee is written in dual narrative with entries from Charlie Dean and John Smith-Thomas in their respective fashion diaries over the course of the competition. Interestingly, despite their competing together and going to school together, Charlie and John have very little overlap within the pages of this book. How did you go about organizing their two stories to become the plot of one novel? How did you balance having two first person narrators with such distinct personalities and styles?

SJ: I wanted their different perspectives on the contest and the act of designing clothes to act almost as a conversation about fashion. What’s wonderful about it? What’s problematic? Is it a legitimate and serious art form? Their worlds wouldn’t intersect much because they are not likely to be friends but I imagined that their observations of each other would be quite revealing. The two of them helped me to sort out some of my feelings about fashion. Charlie allowed me to explore the costs and benefits of true artistic obsession and John’s experiences let me think about how good people sometimes betray people they love and how self-righteous anger can be a trap. John is a less extreme and less stylized (and stylish!) character than Charlie, so his voice took longer to develop.

MP: This book all comes down to perspective and perception. Charlie grapples with the choices she has to make to pursue her dreams and ambitions while navigating the turbulence inherent to her father’s addiction. John, meanwhile, has to let go a lot of his own biases and unpack his privilege as he tries to reconcile his own self-perception with a newfound desire to be more. One of my favorite quotes is from John as he begins to realize this and says, “It was beginning to occur to me that I was a little too in love with stereotypes and preconceptions.” Did you always know that Charlie and John would have these multifaceted personalities and secrets? How did you handle layering that into their narratives?

SJ: My understanding of Charlie and John deepened with each draft and I kept my mind open to multiple possibilities in each scene as they progressed through the application process and created their designs for the fashion show. They surprised me at every turn. It’s not a terribly efficient way to work, but I’m a believer in letting the characters lead the way.

MP: This book isn’t your first foray into fashion or art school in your writing or in your life. What was your favorite thing about your time in design school? Did you do any hands on research with fashion design or metalwork for this book?

SJ: It was thrilling to learn some new drafting or sewing technique. When I attended fashion design school I was having quite a few personal problems. It was my first time away from my small town and I was living in Toronto, Canada’s largest city. Unfortunately, I brought all my problems with me and developed some new ones. I ended up dropping out of school after six months. Not long after I left I learned that I’d won an award from the Costume Society of Ontario for one of my designs. I was gratified, but it felt bittersweet too. I could have been a contender!

For research, I read many books on fashion design, fashion theory, fashion history, and haute couture techniques. I visited the Manus x Machina fashion exhibit at The Met for inspiration. That was mind blowing. I also took a couple of metalworking classes and interviewed artists who work with metal. The research for this book was thoroughly enjoyable.

MP: Charlie and John each have to design a piece of clothing for the fashion competition. What would you have designed if you were in the competition? What are some things that would feature on your mood board?

SJ: I loved the period in 19th century fashion sometimes referred to as the Extravagant Period so I would likely have done something over the top. Huge crinolines, feathers. Completely impractical. My mood board would be full of photos of waterfalls, sheer cliffs and black birds resting on bare branches.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

SJ: I’m working on a new comedic crime novel for adults (and young adults who like that sort of thing) and a deeply bizarre picture book.

Thanks again to Susan for this awesome interview.

You can see more about Susan and her books on her website.

You can also check out my review of The Fashion Committee.

The Truth Commission: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“When you tell a story, you shape the truth.”

The Truth Commission by Susan JubyAfter years of being fodder (along with her parents) for her sister Kiera’s best-selling graphic novel series, The Diana Chronicles, Normandy Pale is ready to come into her own. She’d like to be known for her own strengths and accomplishments instead of constantly being compared to her hapless counterpart in the Chronicles.

But it turns out it’s hard to stop being a muse. Especially when you never asked to be one.

How can Normandy focus on her projects at the Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design when she is terrified of what fresh humiliations her character will be subjected to in Kiera’s highly anticipated new book? How can she embark on a search for truth with the Truth Commission she accidentally started with best friends Dusk and Neil when it feels like secrets are the only things holding her fragile and peculiar family together?

In searching for secrets at Green Pastures, Dusk, Neil, and a reluctant Normandy hope to bring some kind of peace and honesty to their school. But when their hunt for truth reveals some uncomfortable secrets and shocking truths about Kiera and her work, Normandy will have to decide how much honesty she wants in her own life in The Truth Commission (2015) by Susan Juby.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Truth Commission is an ambitious novel presented as a work of narrative non-fiction complete with footnotes and illustrations (by Trevor Cooper). Written as Normandy’s spring project for the Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design, The Truth Commission is a sleek and self-aware novel.

In watching Normandy work through the process of writing her own book (when to add chapter breaks, how to move the plot along, etc.) The Truth Commission also becomes a sort of primer on how to write and write well. The one-sided dialog (in footnotes) between Normandy and her teacher Ms. Fowler also adds another dimension to a novel that is already delightfully complex.

Speaking of Ms. Fowler, it’s also refreshing to see that Normandy has adults in her life who are present and offer support throughout the novel–even if they aren’t always the ones who should be at the forefront in terms of support. This novel is about a lot of other things but seeing Normandy create and nurture her own support system is very powerful.

As the title suggests, The Truth Commission is a story about truth and honesty. It’s also a story about family and what it means when the family you are born into is not always as good or healthy as the family you might choose. It’s a story about art–both making it and engaging with it. It’s a story about the push and pull of friendships. It’s even a bit of a story about love. Most importantly, The Truth Commission is about how people–both creators and not–shape their own worlds and stories in the telling.

The Truth Commission is a thoughtful, smart, and funny story that works on many different planes. What starts as a humorous and promising project for Normandy and her friends becomes much more in Juby’s expert hands in this meditation on subjectivity, consent and how telling the truth (or choosing not to) can change everything. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Feed by M. T. Anderson, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella, The Romantics by Leah Konen, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, In Real Life by Jessica Love, Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty, A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos, We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt, If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti, This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Susan!

Author Interview: Susan Juby on The Truth Commission

Susan Juby is here today talking about The Truth Commission. Written as narrative non-fiction, this novel includes illustrations and footnotes as well as  tons of humor and wit. The Truth Commission is also one of my favorite novels from 2015 so I am absolutely thrilled to have Susan here to chat about it!

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Susan Juby (SJ): I had a severely misspent youth, which is the subject of my memoir, Nice Recovery. But before I went off the rails, I loved to write. When I was thirteen I lost the sense that I could write anything worth reading. I didn’t write any more fiction until I was twenty­-seven, when I started my first book, Alice, I Think. Now I’ve written 10 books. I’m afraid to stop in case the well runs dry again.

MP: What was the inspiration for The Truth Commission?

SJ: I was working on a crime novel for adults and about 200 pages in I realized that I’d based part of the plot on the real life experiences of someone close to me. I’d done it without even thinking. That realization put the brakes on that story but made me think about how disconcerting it must be for families and friends of writers, particularly writers who feel everything that happens around them is fair game for their work. I structured the novel as a piece of creative nonfiction because that is a realm in which the ethics of storytelling and truth telling can get very complicated.

MP: One of the really cool things about The Truth Commission is its unusual formatting which includes illustrations from Trevor Cooper and footnotes in the text. Did you always know that this book would these supplemental materials?

SJ: As soon as I decided the novel should be framed as a creative nonfiction school project, I knew it would contain footnotes. They are the perfect place to add digressions, commentary, subplots and they can be used to destabilize primary narratives and are just generally well suited to narrative hijinks.

When the first draft of the book was done I thought about how many of my creative writing students draw all over everything. Trevor Cooper, a fine art major, was such a student and when he handed in a fabulous illustrated noir retelling of Winnie the Pooh I decided to ask him to do some sketches for The Truth Commission. Those few sketches expanded to include fabulous and witty artwork found throughout the book.

MP: The Truth Commission is largely set at Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design–the school Normandy and her friends attend. Normandy and her friends all have their own concentrations and focus areas at the school. If you were attending Green Pastures what art would you want to study and create?

SJ: I would want to do metalwork and fabric arts. And drawing. And sculpting. And digital design. Let’s not forget painting. Ahem. I long to attend art school. Maybe I’ll do that when I retire.

MP: The Truth Commission works on a lot of different levels with Normandy  working through the process of writing a narrative non-fiction project, making art, pursuing truth with her friends, and also confronting some hard  truths about her own family. How did you go about plotting this book and fitting all of these different pieces together?

SJ: I knew the elements I wanted to include: the two truth seeking plots, one public, one private. I also knew I wanted to frame the book as a piece of creative nonfiction. After experimenting I decided to alternate the public truth seeking scenes with the private ones and to make the book a writing project. There’s such an intriguing contrast and tension between secrets that we want to know to satisfy our curiosity and secrets we’re afraid to find out because of what they might mean to us. I tinkered endlessly to find the right balance between the different elements in the book.

MP: The Truth Commission is a thoughtful commentary on what makes an unreliable narrator and the nature of subjectivity in sharing truths with people (in writing or art or just in life). As a writer how do you go about bringing authenticity and truth into your work without going too far?

SJ: I have to be alert for two pitfalls. One is writing stories that are too close to my own or other people’s experiences without being aware that’s what I’m doing. Life has a way of leaking onto the page. If I know I’ve done it, I can adjust the text to make sure I respect the privacy of other parties. If I do it unknowingly, that can be problematic. It has sometimes taken me months to figure out that a scene or situation in one of my books is close to a real ­life experience. The other risk is being so afraid of being offensive or impolite that I don’t push the story far enough to create an authentic moment. I’d rather go too far and dial the story back during editing than err on the side of caution.

MP: Normandy describes her family as “fragile and peculiar” while her friends and classmates are what would often be called eccentric. Where did you find inspiration for these unique characters? Is there any character that you were especially fun to write? Any character that was harder to get on the page?

SJ: I have always been drawn to eccentric people and my favourite characters in literature and film are a little off­-kilter. That’s part of why I love the films of Wes Anderson. There’s a purity to his oddballs and misfits that I find very beautiful in the midst of the absurdity. I’m seeking the same sensibility in my characters. Characters with all their edges filed off to make them more likable or relatable aren’t interesting to write or to read. The characters in The Truth Commission all came fairly easily to me. Art students: how could they be anything but entertaining to write about?

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

SJ: It’s another book set at, or at least near, Green Pastures. It’s about two eleventh graders trying to win a scholarship to the fashion program at Green Pastures. The book has a completely different cast of characters than The Truth Commission and it has given me the opportunity to revisit my lost fashion design student years.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

SJ: My advice is fairly standard: read everything. Write often and don’t worry whetherit’s any good at first. Just get the words down. Once you’re in a groove, work on developing your voice as a writer. It’s the most important gift a writer has to give.

Thanks again to Susan for this awesome interview.

You can see more about Susan and her books on her website.

You can also check out my review of The Truth Commission.

Alice MacLeod, Realist at Last: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Alice MacLeod, Realist at Last by Susan JubyThere are many reasons this review was posted late and backdated which I won’t get into here. Suffice to say I have been meaning to write this review for months but have been putting it off because I knew that once I wrote the review I would have to admit that Alice’s adventures were done–no small task let me assure you.

Onward . . .

Alice MacLeod, Realist at Last (2005) is the stunning conclusion to Susan Juby‘s debut trilogy (preceeded by Alice, I Think and its sequel Miss Smithers). You might recognize Juby’s name from the 2009 Edgar Awards where Getting the Girl was a nominee.

This installment opens with the first scene from Alice’s screenplay “Of Moose and Men”–a creative work loosely based on her own life. Excerpts of the screenplay are sprinkled throughout the novel. The writing is overwrought, exaggerated, and provides hysterical insight into Alice’s psyche throughout the story. In addition to being Alice’s latest career of choice, writing her screenplay also helps this sixteen-year-old heroine make sense of the chaos that has become her life.

At the beginning of the story, Alice’s boyfriend Goose is moving with his family to Glasgow for an entire year only to go away to university on the other end of Canada when he finally returns. Dealing with this heartbreak is bad enough on its own. Then Alice’s mother, a somewhat aggressive environmentalist, is thrown in jail as a result of her activist activities. That leaves Alice, her younger brother, and her father on their own. To say that this development leaves the family less than functional would be a vast understatement.

The one constant in Alice’s life seems, ironically, to be Death Lord Bob–her ineffectual therapist from the Teens in Transition (Not Trouble) Center in town. At least until he too is called away leaving Alice with the surly Ms. Deitrich who doesn’t seem to understand anything about Alice’s life let alone her highly evolved sense of style.

With their matriarch breadwinner in jail Alice and her father find themselves, for the first time, looking for gainful employment. Alice’s job search, and eventual employment, throw her into the paths of two brilliant characters: Wallace and Vince. Negotiating these new romantic waters, Alice finds herself caught between two equally charming suitors–one five years her senior, the other considerably her junior. The dilemma is equally difficult for readers who will likely be as attracted to these guys as Alice herself.

Throughout the series, readers are able to trace Alice’s evolution as a character. The girl we meet in this novel is very different from the Alice entering a traditional school (or a beauty pageant) for the first time. She is more mature, and in some ways  more responsible and engaged with the world at large. More than that, though, Alice’s true depth as a heroine is really apparent in this story as she not only works through but even rises above all of the (screw)balls life throws at her.

Alice MacLeod, Realist at Last doesn’t qualify as truly “realistic” fiction because of the humor and general madness that surrounds Alice. But Alice is still an utterly real and engaging character with a quirky sense of humor (and style) that will leave readers smiling.

(I’d recommend reading the entire trilogy in sequence to fully appreciate how awesome it is, but the stories do stand alone fairly well if you happen upon them out of order.)

Possible Pairings: The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen, Skinny by Donna Crooner, Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow, Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe, Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, Don’t Expect Magic by Kathy McCullough,  I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Define “Normal” by Julie Anne Peters, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

Miss Smithers: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Miss Smithers by Susan JubyLong time readers might remember my previous demonstration of fondness for Alice, I Think by Susan Juby. By itself, the book was fantastically funny with some great plot points and characters. So imagine my happiness back in 2005 when I realized a sequel (set a bit after the first novel’s events) had been published and was available from my place of employ.

Like many good stories, Miss Smithers (2004) starts with an offer that Alice can’t refuse–especially if she wants to prove to everyone that she really is a special girl. Being previously home schooled and a bit of a loner, Alice is surprised when the local Rod and Gun Club asks her to be their representative at the Miss Smithers Beauty Pageant. That is until she hears about the four hundred dollar allotment for clothing. At that point, much to her mother’s horror, Alice is prepared to participate in anything.

Unlike higher profile pageants, Miss Smithers has enough events that are varied and vague enough that every participant has a chance of being good at something. Surely that must also include a moderately well-adjusted teen who used to think she was a hobbit, right?

After one botched newsletter distribution and the purchase of questionable attire for a beauty pageant, Alice begins to question her initial (over)confidence at winning Miss Smithers. Of course, it’s only then that Alice really starts to learn and grow from her brief experience as a beauty queen.

Like Alice, I Think before it, Miss Smithers has received some negative reviews from people who argue they can’t connect with Alice. For my part, I can’t understand why as I love Alice who seems to be the embodiment of the simultaneously apathetic and overeager teen found inside everyone.

Other negatives included a review that railed against the discussion of underage sex and drinking found in this book. There are two sides to that issue. As a teen I read a lot of books with characters who had sex and drank. Most of my friends and family will agree these readings had no detriment on my moral code. There are also a lot of books out there that are far more explicit about both topics.

In relation to this novel: yes Alice does get drunk, and yes she does consider sex quite a bit. But she also decides to take a chastity vow and spends a good amount of time contemplating what Jesus really would do. All in the same novel. Like most sixteen-year-old girls, Alice changes her mind a lot. As such, Juby creates a realistic albeit sarcastic protagonist with a well-rounded variety of experiences in this story.

Like the first novel in this trilogy, Miss Smithers does follow a diary format. The “standards” of that genre are adhered to a bit more loosely here with dated entries reading more like the usual prose. Not to worry though, this novel features a different kind of gimmick instead of the diary entries. Interspersed between chapters, Alice includes a handy newsletter (hand typed) detailing pageant events as well as a spreadsheet tallying each entrant’s points and progress toward the win. These newsletters are also a great way to look at Alice’s increasing maturity throughout the story as she begins to take more pride in the competition and becomes more familiar with each of the contestants.

Equal parts humor and sarcasm make this book a great read for anyone who would never usually pay attention to beauty pageants in books or otherwise.

Possible Pairings: The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen, Skinny by Donna Crooner, Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow, Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe, Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, Don’t Expect Magic by Kathy McCullough,  I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Define “Normal” by Julie Anne Peters, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

Alice, I Think: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Alice, I Think by Susan JubyAlice, I Think (2003) is Susan Juby’s first novel. It is also the start of her Alice series (not to be confused with Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice series). Before going into the details of plot and why I love this book, I want to address some of the issues I saw in negative reviews by saying this: The book is fiction and it is in the vein of satire. Juby uses hyperbole, sarcasm, and caustic wit to create this story. That doesn’t always create realistic situations or accurate portrayals of “real” people. But it does create a good novel. As long as readers go into this novel with what the film industry would call a willing suspension of disbelief, I genuinely believe most of them will be able to find something to like about this book. So, why am I saying all of that? Because Alice is awesome of course.

Alice MacLeod, our intrepid Canadian hero, read The Hobbit when she was very young. This led to a strong desire to attend her first day of school as a hobbit which is well and good creatively, but doesn’t work out so well in actuality. In fact it works out so badly, that Alice’s non-conformist parents decide to pull her out of school and teach her themselves at home.

Flash forward to the present. Alice is fifteen and talking her new therapist Death Lord Bob at the Teens in Transition (not trouble) center in town. In a misguided attempt to cheer Bob up, Alice finds herself agreeing to return to “normal” school among but one of many items placed on a “Life Goals List.”

As Alice leaves the shelter of her home, she embarks on a search for a new haircut, new clothes, a boyfriend and lots of other things. These hunts lead to hilarity of a high degree along with not a little bit of mayhem. In the end, Alice comes out maybe a little worse for wear but no less enthusiastic about checking items off of her list in the future. As Susan Juby suggests on her newly designed website, Alice shows that sometimes oddballs make the best characters.

As I started reading, I was surprised that I liked Alice, I Think as much as I did. (Although I am not alone in my enthusiasm. The book inspired a Canadian TV series as well as the entire trilogy receiving heaps of praise and award nominations.) The novel is written in a diary style, which usually doesn’t appeal. But Juby handles the style creatively, not letting it limit Alice’s narration or how events are conveyed to the reader and, most importantly, Juby still includes lots of hilarious dialogue.

Juby’s characters are also amazingly handled. Yes, a lot of them might sound more like cartoons than true-to-life people. But that’s okay. In a novel this funny, a lot of things have a cartoonish exuberance to them. Aside from that, the characters are endearing no matter how silly they might be.

As Alice works through the issues inherent to starting at a new school and tries to find new friends, readers watch her simultaneously learn how better to engage with the world at large (a revolution that continues in this novel’s two sequels Miss Smithers and Alice MacLeod: Realist at Last). Then there’s the fact that it’s literally a laugh out loud funny book. Definitely worth a look for anyone who wants a good, funny, entertaining novel.

Possible Pairings: The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen, Skinny by Donna Crooner, Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow, Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe, Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, Don’t Expect Magic by Kathy McCullough,  I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Define “Normal” by Julie Anne Peters, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee