“Somehow life seemed to be rushing ahead faster than I was ready for. I’d barely get comfortable with one thing, and then – bam!- something new was happening.” (p. 122-3)
This quote, to me, is the core of the appeal of the Alice series. Don’t we all feel like this? It serves to remind us adults that we aren’t the only ones who feel like life is always changing. And it helps comfort girls who feel like they are the only ones among their group of friends who aren’t ready to have things change.
If you’re a regular follower of my blog, you know that the character of Alice McKinley has really struck a chord with me since the first book I read in this series many years ago. I had read various books in the series over the years, but I decided I wanted to start Alice’s journey from the beginning of her preteen years. I’ve already started blogging about the series here, hereand here.
This is the summer between Alice’s 6th and 7th grade years, and at the beginning, Alice feels that it is going to be a great summer. She has two really great friends, Pamela and Elizabeth, and a boyfriend, Patrick. Pamela’s cousin from New Jersey told Pamela that they need to start junior high with boyfriends in order to be accepted, so this becomes “The Summer of the First Boyfriend” according to Alice’s father.
And having a boyfriend requires a whole new set of social skills for the girls. Since Alice has had all year to grow her friendship with the other girls, Naylor uses this novel to help Alice find her way with Patrick. These are still young girls, so the most that goes on here is French kissing. But each girl has a boyfriend during this summer, and they all make different relationship decisions. Patrick and Alice see each other almost every day, mostly spending time on her front porch talking and holding hands. Elizabeth believe that she shouldn’t even kiss a boy (because her parents have told her she is not allowed to date) and Pamela’s mother has threatened to cut off Pamela’s extremely long hair if she dates anyone. Pamela decides to risk her mother’s anger and keep her boyfriend, but Elizabeth’s boyfriend breaks up with her when she won’t kiss him.
Patrick and Alice do lots of things together, including a supervised vacation at the beach, a fancy date at the country club and lots of time spent hanging out with their group of friends. In other words, this is an appropriate romance for young teens – there is no pressure to do anything uncomfortable at this point in the series, and the teens are having a good time together without getting into trouble. And when Alice decides that she would rather not have a boyfriend at the beginning of school, they downgrade to “special friends” without too much fuss.
One of the biggest topics in this series is Alice’s mother, who died when Alice was five. Alice is always evaluating her mother’s absence and her impact on Alice’s life. There are some real bittersweet moments in this novel. Alice discovers a box of her mom’s memorabilia in their attic while looking for some clothes. This brings her closer to her mother as it triggers some of Alice own memories (she hasn’t remembered much about her mother previously). It also helps Alice begin to know her mother as a woman and a mother.
However, as a motherless girl, there are times when Alice really feels left out. In this book she begins to find that there are substitute mothers in her life – her Aunt Sally and cousin Carol, who give her advice on what to give Patrick for his birthday; a neighbor who happens to show up when Alice is home sick with the flu; some of her older brother’s girlfriends…Alice isn’t alone. And in fact, she has many strong women in her life to help her. She just has to know where to look.
This series is so rewarding. Every time I dive into one, I read it within an afternoon. They are comforting and also address the anxiety of change. It is a feeling we can all relate to, and that’s part of the reason I keep coming back.
Alice in Rapture, Sort Of. Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Atheneum, 1989.