Alice, I Think
by Susan Juby
Interests: family, teen drama, small town life, fashion, career choices, coming of age, how lame adults can be
Harper Trophy Canada: 2000
Also by this author: Alice sequels – Miss Smithers and Alice MacLeod, Realist at Last; The Truth Commission; Home to Woefield
Alice is the progeny of artistic, hippie parents and after years of home-schooling she is ready to try high school. Or so she tells her therapist Bob. Under his guidance she writes up a list of goals:
Decide on a unique and innovative career path.
Increase contact with people outside of immediate family.
Learn to drive a car.
Some sort of boy-girl interaction? (Possibly best left until after high school. Maybe best left until middle age.)
Publish paper comparing teenagers and chicken peer groups.
Read entire Lord of the Rings series.
In this, her diary, the motley assortment of adults who rule her world all come under her cold, critical gaze, and her opinions on their hypocrisies and tragic fashion sense are hilarious. The fact that her teachers, counsellors, and parents are just as neurotic and eccentric as Alice is, isn’t helping her in her quest for happiness, or at least social invisibility. And living in the small B.C. town of Smithers makes everything tougher, from avoiding the head-banger girl who wants to beat her up to finding a vaguely competent hair stylist. As the story progresses Alice finally receives a new, life-changing haircut (in the city), undergoes a thrift store fashion makeover, briefly holds a part-time job in a second-hand bookstore, and has a couple of epic encounters with socially awkward teen boys. In Alice’s quest for cool even her cousin, the wildly out-of-control alcoholic party girl Frank, starts to look like a pretty good role model. The many setbacks Alice endures – from getting beaten up to breaking out in a rash from her makeup – may leave her reeling melodramatically, but she always summons up the courage to face another day. Trailing along with her family to a drum circle, a tropical fish convention, a drunken community trail ride, and an even drunker Princess Diana memorial, in the end Alice’s greatest find isn’t the maybe-boyfriend, it’s the new best friend who shares her weary worldview. In the end Alice’s biggest problem is nothing more than loneliness.
The author describes this novel as an “homage to oddballs”, and Alice fits that bill perfectly. (Nearly every character in the book fits the bill.) Alice’s narrative voice is flawlessly written – blissfully unaware of her own shortcomings, she always feels hard done by. (The unwitting revelations about her own character reminded me of the brilliant diaries of Adrian Mole by British writer Sue Townsend.) I was amused to see several negative Goodreads reviews of this book by adult readers who found Alice just too annoying. I think they’re missing the point, and the joke. She’s simply exhibiting the classic teenage mixture of blustering arrogance and crippling insecurity. This book has a lot to say about self-absorbed youth, but also about the adults who boss teens around when their own lives are a mess.
This novel will connect best with young readers who have some experience with home schooling and those who live “alternative lifestyles”:
My parents didn’t send me to kindergarten, because they said they didn’t feel ready yet. But then my brother, MacGregor, was born, and they had to spread around their urge to overprotect. So off I went for the first day of first grade, where I quickly discovered that everyone else had bonded and figured out the rules the year before. My next discovery was that kids don’t like other kids who think they are hobbits, especially kids who break into song and dance without any warning. In fact, as it turned out, there is probably no worse thing to be in first grade than a newcomer who thinks she’s a hobbit.
Parenting Rule No. 1: Don’t sent your kids to school dressed like characters from a fantasy book unless that kid has a lot of friends who also dress like fantasy characters.
But really, any teen who feels like an outsider will know what Alice is talking about.
This classic Canadian YA novel was made into a TV series in 2006.