Alice on the Outside by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor


Yep, still reading these. I just realized that I’m not even halfway through with this series. Good God.

But this is one of the best in the series! Alice #11, in which Alice experiences prejudice and homophobia for the first time.

Alice’s school runs something called Consciousness Raising Week to reach the students about prejudice and privilege. Based on hair color, students are assigned to groups A, B or C, and have certain restrictions and rites based on those groups. Certain groups can only use certain staircases, sit in certain parts of the cafeteria, etc. The students see it as a joke originally, but by the end of the week, everyone is highly emotional and on edge. It’s kind of heavy-handed in delivery, and maybe even a bit preachy, buts its also a good examination of privilege and discrimination, especially for a middle grade book.

There’s also a side story in which Alice gets to know Lori Hayes, a new student in her grade. At a sleepover at Lori’s house, Alice realizes that Lori is interested in her romantically, and she handles the situation with tact and grace. It’s a nice moment that does not overdramatize the miscommunication. Later, Alice has a discussion with her dad in which he makes it clear that he would love her regardless of her sexual orientation. I can imagine that a young reader struggling with his or her sexuality would find particular comfort and solace in this storyline, and I applaud Naylor for including it and doing it justice.

The book also contains one of the realest discussions of sex I have ever seen in a book, let alone a middle-grade book. When Alice’s worldy older cousin Carol comes to visit, Alice take the opportunity to learn all she can about sex and orgasms and love. There’s a nice emphasis on the fact that sex isn’t like it is in the movies. Alice learns that its not all about simultaneous orgasms and inexplicably perfect hair, but that sex is really about trust and requires clear communication. I can certainly see some parents taking issue with the sexual nature of that chapter, but Naylor handles it so well — like a blunt but loving grandmother.

Random observations:
– Found myself hating Patrick significantly less here. Is it possible he is developing his very own personality?
– This is the one where Patrick gets mono right before the semiformal, and Alice ends up going alone. I love she went to the dance by herself even though the idea intimidated her. It was also classy that Patrick enlisted Sam to take her to the dance, even though he knew Sam had a crush on her. Props to Patrick.
– I don’t really get how the title fit the story. If anything, this is more ‘Alice in the Know’ as she learns about prejudice, discrimination and relationships. But don’t worry – Alice in the Know is a title of a later book in the series. Did I mention how many of these there are?


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