One of the first children's books I read in graduate school was Alice the Brave. I loved it so much - even as an adult, I could still connect with and feel comforted by this short novel. Ever since, I have loved this series of books for its wisdom and its sense of certainty in a world that is always changing.
And in The Grooming of Alice, the world is definitely changing. Alice and her group of friends are moving on to high school in the fall. They have the summer stretching out before them, and the girls decide to get into shape to look good in high school. Alice's friend Elizabeth takes this diet too far after a teasing comment from a boy and begins to teeter into possible anorexia.
The summer is also filled with potential changes for Alice. Alice's single father is planning a trip to England (where his girlfriend is teaching for a year) to convince her to marry him. Alice is volunteering at a hospital where a much-loved teacher is dying. Alice's friend Pamela is fighting with her father. Life is messy, but it goes on. Not everything is resolved in a happy manner, but it is resolved successfully.
This episode in the Alice series deals with sex in a frank but nonjudgemental way. Alice has been with her boyfriend Patrick for a couple of years, and while they only kiss, she's beginning to wonder about...more. Alice's mother died when she was young, which means that she often has to turn to her father and college-aged brother for advice. Interestingly, her big brother does take the time to analyze sexual behavior with her, allowing her the freedom to ask questions without becoming too uncomfortable. The girls also attend a seminar where they see pictures of naked bodies - the point being that there is a wide range of bodies and that all sizes and types are normal. Again, this is really comforting for the kid who has questions and is afraid to ask their own parents. However, it also makes this book (and others in the series) not appropriate for every reader.
Alice is every bit her age. She isn't perfect - she makes mistakes, is grounded and yelled at, just like every other teen. But she is wonderful - she has a real sense of herself and is questioning and changing. Alice supports her friends, but is honest too. She has a group of friends, but doesn't just follow the pack mentality. She has a strong relationship with her brother and dad, but it's real too. For instance, Alice asks her older brother what part of her body he would change, and he tells her that her lips should be changed - they should be stapled shut!
Because I've had a sick child this week, I found myself turning to Alice for comfort when I had a break - sometimes just a chapter, sometimes more. I have always meant to read the series in order (and maybe collect them all!), since I've only read some titles, skipping around in the series. So now is my opportunity to read the series in order ( I found this chronological listing on Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's website). I already have the three prequels checked out from the library. I'll report back!
The Grooming of Alice. Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2000. from my personal collection