Sunday, May 13, 2012

Alice In-Between

So it's Mother's Day, for at least another hour here.  I'm finally posting a blog for the first time in more than a month.  Sorry for the long silence, but there have been some changes here, as well as some computer troubles that kept me from posting.  But I'm back!

And I am writing today about Alice, who actually lost her mother when she was very young. If you haven't read my other posts on this series, you can start here.  Alice begins this book at the end of her seventh grade year.  She has "the in-between blues" (p.86) as she tells her brother Lester.  Alice feels like she isn't young anymore, but she also isn't ready to become a grownup.  After all, she is only just turning thirteen.  And as those of us who have been thirteen year old girls can attest, quite often you don't know exactly what's going on.  You yearn for change, but when it comes, you aren't really ready for it and then want to go back to childhood.

This is exactly what happens to Alice.  She gets two glimpses of the adult world that giver her pause in this book.  The first comes after Alice's birthday.  For her birthday, she gets Lester to agree to take her out for a fancy (expensive) night on the town.  While Alice and Lester are out dancing, they run into Lester's sometime girlfriend, Crystal.  She has met a man at a club, and he has become aggressive with alcohol and won't leave her alone.  This man believes that Lester and Alice are husband and wife, and he willingly dances with Alice while Lester smuggles Crystal out of the club.  Alice marvels "I had only been a teenager for one week, and already I was being asked to help out in the romance department.  More than that, I might even be saving Crystal's life." (p. 24).  They make it out successfully, and the whole incident has a light-hearted tone.  None of them ever really feel in danger, and they all laugh about it.  After dropping Crystal off, though, Alice does ask Lester what she should do if it happens to her, and he tells her to call home immediately so he or their father can come get her.  But Alice is flattered by being seen as older by this man, and excited by the adventure of rescuing Crystal.

The next incident is even more threatening and scary.  Alice is invited to Chicago to visit her Aunt Sally's family with her two best friends, Pamela and Elizabeth.  As a side note, this friendship is another place where Alice feels in-between.  While Pamela loves to look more grown-up and to experiment with being adult, Elizabeth is prudish and young.  She doesn't want to talk about anything having to do with boys, marriage or sex.  Alice isn't quite ready to move full steam ahead like Pamela, is, but she isn't as slow to grow up as Elizabeth.
So off the girls go, via Amtrak from Washington DC to Chicago.  They are going to spend the night on the train, and Pamela ends up with her own tiny room.  A man sees her on the train, and asks her to eat dinner with him.  Pamela, not thinking of the consequences, agrees.  She tells him that she is getting ready to start college.  After dinner (with multiple drinks for the man), they go back to her room, but luckily Pamela is able to escape before anything really terrible happens to her (he does kiss and grope her).  The girls are lucky to have the conductor watching out for them, and he threatens the man to get him to leave the girls alone.  All three girls are very shaken by this incident, and during their time in Chicago, Alice notices that Pamela is reverting: "I swear she looked more like her sixth-grade picture than she did back in sixth grade." (p.115).  Not even Pamela is truly ready to become an adult.
As in most of the Alice books, Alice spends a lot of time thinking and wondering about her mother.  She misses her mother, and wonders how she would be different if her mother was alive.  And she sometimes feels a little lost with her father and brother: "One of the problems of growing up without a mother is that there's no one around who has any idea what it's like to be a girl." (p.2).  As Alice continues to negotiate her way through puberty, I can see this only becoming more important to her.

While looking for a poem to recite in a poetry unit at school, she finds a poem in a book belonging to her mother.  It's "Thanatopsis" by William Cullen Bryant, and a note in its margin tells Alice that it was one of her favorites.  Alice begins to work on memorizing the poem, and in turn, this connects her to her father's grief.  He helps Alice practice, and tells her how this poem helped sustain both Alice's mother and him while she was dying.  On the day Alice recites the poem in class, she begins crying as she speaks, thinking of her mother's life and love.  Later than night, she tells her brother and father about what happened.  Lester tells about a letter their mother had written him before she died, and how he thought he had lost it at school afterwards.  He tells how hard he had cried.  "Dad reached over and put a hand on Lester's shoulder, then stretched out his other hand to me...for a moment we just sat there, all holding hands.  Then Dad gave us a quick squeeze, and we went back to eating supper." (p. 85).  It's a poignant moment of enduring grief, but also enduring family strength.

Alice is negotiating the difficulties of being a teenager fairly well.  At the end of this book, Alice seems to be back together with Patrick, her on-again, off-again boyfriend.  And she is coming into her own.  There will always be bumps in the road, but Alice's Aunt Sally sums it up best when she says "'Marie's little girl, almost grown.'...'She would have been so pleased.'" (p. 120)

Alice In-Between.  Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.  Atheneum, 1994.
Borrowed from Lewis & Clark library

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