THE GROOMING OF ALICE.

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THE GROOMING OF ALICE BY PHYLLIS REYNOLDS NAYLOR

★★★

If you were to ask me if I had to pinpoint with the Alice series switches from middle-grade to young adult, I would say it’s The Grooming of Alice. Alice’s issues and manner of speaking become a bit more adult, and oh god does she even through some truly teenage tantrums in this one.

At one point, Alice, in a fit of pubescent dramatics, dubs the summer between eighth and ninth grade the worst summer ever. I’m normally against hyperbole, but I have to admit that our every-girl heroine sure has a lot of issues thrown at her in these two hundred pages.

Alice, Pamela and Elizabeth decide they need to get in shape for high school and commit themselves to a low-calorie, high-exercise regimen. Alice, forever the realist, doesn’t take any of it too seriously. Elizabeth, on the other hand, who has always been the quiet and sensitive one, begins to take losing weight too far. She soon veers alarmingly close to eating disorder territory, and gives Alice — and the reader — a lesson in body image and self-confidence.

Pamela’s life essentially implodes in this one too. Her mother is currently shacked up in Colorado with her NordicTrack instructor boyfriend, leaving Pamela alone with her moody, aloof father. Her troubled relationship with her dad culminates in her attempt to “run away”, in which she really ends up hiding in Alice’s room. Alice’s attempt to protect Pamela, and hide her from both their dads as well as the police, ends up completely blowing up in her face. She ends up grounded with her dad more angry at her than ever before. Alice always tends to do the ‘right thing’, so it was kind of refreshing to see her make a really poor decision and face the consequences.

Alice and her new friend Gwen start candy-striping at the local hospital, and Alice loves finding herself relied upon in a professional context. It is her first taste of real responsibility, and she gains some confidence as well as experience. Her enjoyment is marred by the sudden passing of Mrs. Plotkin, her favorite former teacher. This is the biggest loss Alice has experienced in her living memory, and her grief and confusion are totally appropriate and relatable:

“I…I’m sorry,” I said, my face all scrunched up, puffy and feverish. “I don’t know what’s the matter with me. It’s as though she were part of the family.”

“I think she was, Al,” Dad said quietly. “I think she came closest, maybe, to being a mother for you for a while. You never did, you know, really get a chance to grieve for your mom; you were too young to understand the finality of it. I think it’s a fine thing that you loved Mrs. Plotkin so much. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t miss her so much now.”

These are the little moments that set the series apart from all the other middle-graders, and one of the reason I still love re-reading them so much. The quiet meaningful moments end up sticking with me much more than the high dramatics.

Random observations:

  • I love Lester so much more this time around. I remember not liking him very much when I first read these books, and now I think I can relate to him better than I can relate to Alice. I wonder if I go back and read these books in another ten years I’ll identify with Alice’s dad the most.
  • Alice also formally introduces herself to her vulva in this one, via a hand-mirror. Actual quote:

“Well,” I said to my privates, “nice to meet you!”

  • Some serious foreshadowing with the subtle introduction of Penny, Alice’s future rival-in-love. She should have suspected something was up when Patrick referred to her as having “personality and pizzazz”…what does that even mean, Patrick.
  • Speaking of dated language — this is the first time it was really noticeable to me. “Doggone on it” is not something the next generation says, but I can’t hold it against Naylor who was born in 1933 (!!).
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