The Agony of Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

The Agony of Alice. Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, c.1985. 131 pages.


“Life is like a dumpster. As soon as you get rid of one embarrassment, you pick up another. I knew that this was going to go on forever unless I found someone to set an example for me, and by the time I got the mustard off my shirt, I’d made up my mind: I’d adopt a mother, and she wouldn’t even know” (Naylor, 1985, p.16).

The summer between fifth and sixth grades, Alice McKinley moves from Tacoma Park to Silver Spring, Michigan. Alice’s mother died when she was only four and she lives with her father and older brother Lester (who she doesn’t understand). Alice is about to become a teenage girl, only she doesn’t know how! Since her father and Lester don’t seem to know how either, Alice decides she needs to find an older, female role model. She thinks she’s found one in the gorgeous Miss Cole, a teacher at Alice’s school, but she’s put in dowdy Mrs. Plotkin’s class instead! However, once Alice gives Mrs. Plotkin a chance, she discovers in her a warm, motherly figure.

Review/personal thoughts:

When given this assignment, I immediately knew I wanted to include Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice series. I absolutely loved the Alice books as a tween, and enjoyed The Agony of Alice just as much today at 24 years of age! Naylor writes with such honesty and accuracy, it’s hard to believe she’s any older than a tween herself! Her writing is also incredibly funny, detailing Alice’s many embarrassments. The fact that Alice is constantly embarrassed is, I think, one of the major reasons I related to her so greatly as a tween (and, I’ll admit, today!), and one of the many reasons I think so many tween girls will relate to her now.

Genre: contemporary realistic

Reading level: ages 9 to 12

Similar titles: Alice in Rapture, Sort Of

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