Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Book Review: The Alice Series By Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

There are some books that I can read over and over again and enjoy, sort of like literary comfort food. Among these are the Alice books by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

The books' premise at first seems simple: they follow Alice -- an average-looking girl with an average life -- from ages 12-18 (though Reynolds' wrote three prequels featuring Alice from ages 9-11 and her final Alice book will follow the titular character through her adult years). However, in reading the dozens of incredibly detailed and realistic books, you realize that almost everyone has an interesting life and a story to tell.

Most of Alice's trials and tribulations involve things that would worry a typical teen: she wants to fit in with her friends, find love, do well in school and figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. She lost her mother when she was four so a big part of the plot involves Alice's attempts to hook up her dad with her teacher, Miss Summers (which she succeeds in doing as they eventually marry). Naylor really makes you feel for the narrator, though, and at times, it's easy to forget that Alice isn't actually a real person. She's intelligent, introspective, kind and funny -- and though she's supposed to represent EveryGirl, she's the type of girl whom most teens would want to be. Still, she leads a life that girls could emulate; she's not the most beautiful or popular or special ... she's just hardworking and does her best to work with what she has. It's a big difference from one of my other favorite teen series, Sweet Valley High, where twins Jessica and Elizabeth were impossibly beautiful and hung out with the children of millionaires. That was pure fantasy. But Alice lives a life that's pretty nice and attainable.

I have to say, though, that I like the earlier and middle books in the series better than the later ones as I feel that Naylor is much better at writing tweens and young teens than young/new adults. The early books contained plenty of adventures, but most centered around realistic problems, such as Alice's friend Pamela dealing with her parents' divorce. Readers got a deep look into Alice's thoughts as she beautifully expressed her opinions and feelings on life around her. In the later books, however, the stories became much more plot-oriented. The main story in Alice In Charge, which takes place during her senior year, involves a group of teen Neo Nazis who try to terrorize the school. What? The latest book, Alice On Board, takes place on a cruise and most of the story is about the goings-on on the boat. I wish that these later books had involved more details about Alice's senior year with her friends and her feelings on college and potential careers. Instead, Naylor crammed these "episodes" with issues, making them feel like an After School Special. I don't know if the author was trying to make them more modern or had pressure put on her from her publisher, or what, but Alice always had plenty to say without these added obstacles. In fact, the best part of the Alice books was getting to know Alice herself.

Even so, I'm looking forward to Naylor's final Alice book, Always Alice, which is scheduled to be released this spring. I've enjoyed reading about the character and admire Naylor for not only writing one book, but an entire series! Having covered soaps for so many years, I can appreciate how much work went into crafting an entire LIFETIME for a character and her friends -- and for creating a persona who's so likeable.

I highly recommend that you check out the Alice books. No matter what age you are, you'll relate to her story. There is some strong language and a lot of talk of sexual situations, so younger kids may want to wait to read them or read them along with an adult. Meantime, please read and review my novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

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