NOTE: The following book contains some sexual topics.
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Incredibly Alice. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division), 2011.
It’s Alice McKinley’s final semester of high school, and she’s afraid she hasn’t done anything truly exciting or impressive in the past four years. And she definitely doesn’t feel like her post-high-school plans are all that impressive. How can she compete with someone like Pamela, who’s going to school in New York? Or Patrick, who finished high school in three years and is planning to study abroad? Everyone else seems so sure of themselves and their future plans, while Alice just feels lost.
Plot: Like the other books in the series, Incredibly Alice reads more like a collection of episodes than a single plot-driven story. Some episodes are more exciting than others—overall, this book is mellower than the previous ones. No shocking revelations like Elizabeth’s in Alice Alone. No more trouble from neo-Nazi student groups or pedophilic teachers like in Alice in Charge. But it’s still a fairly quick, compelling read.
There were only two passages that made me roll my eyes because of their cheesiness (i.e. the way they expressed the book’s theme/message), and one minor episode that felt unnecessary (the book banning protest – it didn’t offer any new insights about censorship and free speech, it didn’t contribute anything to the overall story, and there was already a more interesting episode in a previous Alice book that dealt with free speech. The book banning episode felt more like a random Public Service Announcement than an important part of the story).
Characters: One of the best things about Alice is that she’s incredibly relatable. I remember feeling jealous of my friends, too, and worrying that my accomplishments couldn’t measure up to theirs. I remember wondering whether I challenge myself enough, or take enough risks.
In fact, all of the characters and situations feel so believable that sometimes I forget they’re fictional. Alice’s high school is not a cookie-cutter hierarchy of cliques, but a realistic mix of individuals (though the description of the drama club in Alice Alone was a bit cliché—purple hair, dressed all in black…). Once in a while, Naylor even throws in a reference to current events (like the economic recession), so Alice and her community seem even more real and relatable.
Just one bit of nitpicking—there’s a character in Incredibly Alice who has trouble understanding figures of speech, even though she didn’t in the previous books. It doesn’t affect the story, but it’s a bit jarring when a recurring character suddenly has a new personality trait that was supposedly there all along.
Mature content: Sex and body issues are frequent topics in the Alice series, and they are dealt with in a frank, sometimes graphic way – but not gratuitously. There were only two times throughout the series when I thought, Woah, T.M.I! The point is always about respect for the whole person. Just like in Siobhan Vivian’s Not That Kind of Girl, truly meaningful sex is portrayed as both a physical and emotional connection.
Similarly, descriptions of the body are meant to help girls—and boys, too–see that they are normal and worthwhile human beings, whatever they look like. I especially recommend The Grooming of Alice for an honest discussion of body differences.
The next book in the series, Alice on Board, will be released around May 1, 2012, according to Simon & Schuster.
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