Alice is in seventh grade and will soon be turning thirteen. She struggles to fill the role of Woman of the House, and with the responsibilities that come with that role. Alice also experiences anxiety over which U.S. state the seventh grade boys will name her after. The boys are choosing the states for girls based on the shape of their breasts, and Elizabeth has already been given the name Illinois (and Illinois is flat!). Alice is terrified she’ll wind up Rhode Island, or worse…without a name at all! However, she soon faces a much more serious issue. Denise Whitlock, Alice’s former bully, is being abused by her mother and winds up committing suicide.
Alice in April maintains the humorous tone established by other books in the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. However, Naylor appropriately furthers Alice’s development by introducing a much more serious issue in this title. Alice discovers that her former bully, Denise Whitlock, is being abused at home. Though Alice doesn’t know Denise very well, she treats her like a friend and shows her true kindness. After giving Alice a few of her favorite things, Denise commits suicide by standing in the path of an oncoming train. Yes, suicide is a tough issue for tweens to digest, but with the expert way Naylor handles Denise’s suicide, I believe they’re fully capable of doing so. Naylor handles the subject carefully, with empathy, and in a way that is in line with tween readers’ development.
Genre: contemporary realistic
Reading/interest level: ages 9 to 12
Similar titles: Just as Long as We’re Together by Judy Blume
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