Passion, Tenderness, and Joy

Question:
 
The Alice books were some of my favorite ones to read when growing up. I lived in Joliet, Illinois and met you when I was about eight years old. I religiously read all of the Alice books and enjoyed identifying with an awkward and ordinary girl. The Alice books gave me an understanding that my ordinary life was something special and hope for an exciting future.
Now I’ll Tell You Everything came out during my second year of graduate school when I was 24 years old. It was a tough year for me and reading the Alice book gave me hope that everything was going to be OK. It had been years since I had read an Alice book and I found comfort in knowing that she was still around and had a life after her high school years. I was particularly stuck by the concept of passion, tenderness and joy and how it takes that triple threat for a truly loving relationship.
So many of the events of the final installment struck close to home with me: having a friend who suffered a miscarriage, breaking up with someone and getting back together and struggling to find career fulfillment. This book came to me at the time I needed it most and I thank you for that along with all of the other memories.

Phyllis replied:
 
So many readers have commented on Lester’s definition of love–passion, tenderness and joy–and I’m glad that it meant something to you also–that and a number of other things in the books.  I’ve always found that definition helpful, because you can feel sexual passion for someone, and feel sympathy and understanding for his problems, but if there’s not joy….meaning excitement for a future with him, the ability to talk about anything…then something’s missing.  Thanks so much for your email.

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Cried on the Very First Page

Question:

I was introduced to Alice by my school counselor in 5th grade, she loaned me “Reluctantly Alice,” around September. I found a few more in our school library, however the selection was limited because some had been ruled “inappropriate.” I remember only asking for Alice books for Christmas that year. I got caught up on all the Alice books out at the time within the next year or so, collecting and finding them wherever I could. After I was caught up, I was always in the same grade/age/stage as Alice as a new book came out.
I preordered “Now I’ll Tell You Everything,” and I got it right away after it came out. However, it took me months to bring myself to read it. I didn’t want Alice to end. But this weekend, for whatever reason, I decided to put off my five page essay that I hadn’t even begun (still haven’t) and take the time to read it. I cried on the very first page, even though nothing sad happened on that page, I just couldn’t believe that these were the last 517 pages of Alice. It was just what I needed, Mrs. Naylor. I’ve been in the “I just want to get on with my life and get somewhere and do something” college slump lately, but learning that Alice, practically my best friend, made it through everything, has helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel. So I’m done being in this slump, I feel rejuvenated and ready to take on my last year of college, I feel confident that I will eventually find a man who will love me like Patrick loves Alice, like Ben loved Sylvia. I can take on whatever life throws at me. This was the most relaxing weekend I’ve had in awhile, just spending time with Alice. Although I can’t help but feel that a little part of me just died.
So thank you, and thank you to everyone else you’ve ever thanked for contributing to Alice. You’re books weren’t just about Alice, they were about life, and love, and friends, and family, finding the important things, but mostly, me. Not me specifically, but all the “mes” who have ever read your books. I think I speak for all of the Alices when I thank you for writing books about us, and showing us many things we never even knew about ourselves. Thanks for creating a girl we could laugh with, cry with, love with, and be embarrassed with.
I work with children too young to read Alice (4/5 years old), so I can only hope that somewhere, somehow, someone introduces Alice to my students. I will be forever grateful to Mrs. Branch for introducing me to Alice in 5th grade.

Phyllis replied:

Well, I’m grateful to her also, and to the many teachers and librarians who have connected young girls (and women!  and guys!) to my books. I can remember feeling the same way in college that you do now–that I wanted to get out there and start living life!  Not realizing, of course, that I was already involved right up to my neck in life.  Thanks so much for your wonderful email.  I’ve sent it along to my editor, and know it will make her day, too!

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Any Episodes from Life?

Question:

I was searching your Alice website looking for facts about you because i’m writing a speech about you for my summer speech class. Your Alice series has been an important part of my life since i was in 6th grade, so about eight years now. I hated reading until i found Alice, so i decided to write my Favorite Entertainer Speech on you. Anyway, I was reading about how many books are in the series. You wrote that the last would be called Always Alice, but it’s actually Now I’ll Tell You Everything. Why did the name change like that? All of your other books have Alice’s name in them. Also If you have some extra tid-bits of information that i could use in my speech, i would love it if you shared them with my fellow students and me. Anything would help, including how i read somewhere that you put actual events of your life into the books. Cool stuff like that is helpful as well as most anything. Thank you so much for your time. I understand if you only answer the question about the book name. Thank you again.

Phyllis replied:
    
The editor and I had settled on the title, “Always Alice,”–in fact, she had the cover already chosen–a young girl half-hiding her face with her fingers–but when she presented it to the marketing department, they said that the final book should have both a title and a cover with more pizazz. And I loved the title we chose–my editor and I worked and worked, sending titles back and forth to each other until we chose the final one. They were in Riverside Park in New York for the photo shoot of the cover, and I was in New York, in Riverside Park, spending a day with my brother at the same time, but neither of us knew the other was there until weeks later when I happened to mentioned being in the city! As for one of the Alice episodes that really happened to me, the “playing Tarzan” scene in “The Agony of Alice” was straight out of my own fourth grade life. Phyllis

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From a Librarian

Question:
 
Dear Phyllis Reynolds Naylor,
 
Just as Alice wanted a special place, no interruptions, and all the time in the world to share her first intimate moments with someone she loved, so I waited to savor your final book in the Alice series, knowing that once I’d opened the cover I would want to read nonstop all the way through.

Alice books arrived on my desk fifteen years ago when I first started doing outreach for the library and I immediately liked this motherless girl who had the “uncool” teacher and who lived through embarrassing shopping moments with her brother. Alice was sometimes a reminder of the adolescent girl still inside me and other times of my nieces and whatever current dramas they were going through. It wasn’t until Now I’ll Tell You Everything that “Alice-world” really caught up with the grown-up me. With every chapter I found myself reaching for the Kleenex box more and more.

It makes sense that the earlier Alice books cover just a portion of each year. At twelve, school years take forever and it seems like an eternity until high school graduation. And college beyond? Phew! I’m glad you’ve used this last book to describe events in the decades that followed Alice’s high school graduation. Life can fly by! For me, it seems as though the years between forty and fifty were gone in a blink and now I’m fifty-seven. I’ve held my dad’s hand in hospital when we were shocked to learn he needed a by-pass and a valve replacement – all those worn car parts – and cried in disbelief when they told us he’d died from complications of the surgery. I was in Mom’s bedroom with the paramedics and handed them the POLST form – DNR – and watched as they unplugged the EKG machine and let her be in peace. You can bet I had a tissue in hand through the whole chapter about Alice and her father’s death!

Some other things I really liked about this book:

1) You set part of the book in Eugene, Oregon, and in California. Alice and her friends spent far too little time in Yosemite, but at least she got there. I’ve read so many books which feature summers in Maine, so hooray for adventures on the West Coast!

2) Every character has to meet challenges, sometimes with valor, sometimes clumsily. Choices and conversations seemed so real. Teen readers can learn that friends who share a lot can each build very different grown-up lives, move away, have kids or not, marry, divorce, and change careers. I was happy to see that Alice, her brother and friends all had lives that shaped up differently from one another yet they could still find connections to hold them together. The best of all possible worlds, where both old and new can have a place.

3) The gay gals and their Idaho bed & breakfast. Hah! That moving van joke – so true! Glad their connection to the gang was reestablished. Very timely with what’s going on in our country. Alice never mentions how lucky she is that her father and aunt & uncle could attend her & Patrick’s wedding, but that for a lot of couples who recently married in Washington or California, dear parents and grandparents didn’t live long enough to see that happy day.

Teachers tell me that some boys read the Alice stories to understand how girls think. Bravo! What a great way for adolescent boys to also learn about bras, periods, anatomy, and sex education.

Thanks so much for the Alice series. I know when I recommend them to middle schoolers, it’s likely they’ll have years of good reading ahead of them.

Phyllis replied:
 
Thank you so much for taking time from your own busy schedule to write to me.  It’s wonderful to hear how the Alice books are being received in schools and libraries, and I too have discovered boys who read them to get a better understanding of girls. 

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About Sylvia

Question:

I am in love with your Alice books! I’m eleven so I have stopped reading the series momentarily so that nothing is too inappropriate for me (even though I really want to, I’m trying not to read the older books :)). I love how you cover the “troubles” that young girls have. From peer pressure, suicide, and gay/lesbian issues. Which, by the way, I think was really cool of you to write about. Normally, people won’t really write about lesbian couples for youngish girls. I also admire how you made Alice okay with that fact. I also love how they’re so fun to read. Every time I get one of the Alice books from the library I can’t wait to read them!

My best friend and I are in love with the Alice series! But we were wondering about Sylvia. She teaches English, visited England, eats with her fork in her left hand, but does she have an English accent or is her ethnicity English? Thank you so much for writing a book that is so relatable and includes such relatable characters!
 
   
Phyllis replied:
 
I’d forgotten that she ate with her fork in her left hand!  No, Sylvia was born in the U.S.  but she loves England and English literature.

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Who’s Counting?

Question:
 
I’ve been curious about this ever since I read “Now I’ll  Tell You Everything.”  How often did Alice and Patrick make love?
 
Phyllis replied:
 
Let’s see:  In “Now I’ll Tell You Everything, they’ve been married almost forty years.  Who’s counting?

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Passion, Tenderness, and Joy

Question:

I am a huge Alice fan and I have been so for the past 10 years. I just read Now I’ll Tell You Everything, and I was struck by the mention of the three components of love: passion, tenderness, joy. I have been in a relationship for the past three and a half years, but it feels stagnant quite a bit. To be frank, I am much more academically smart than he is and we have radically different interests. I like books and world issues, but when I bring these up to him he doesn’t seem interested. He focuses on smaller things in life, like TV shows and video games he enjoys. I have passion, I have tenderness, but I don’t have the kind of joy I have always wanted for myself. I would love your advice.

Phyllis replied:
 
Your situation could have described my first marriage, although our differences weren’t the same as yours. Three and a half years, I believe, are long enough to give you a look at the future, were you to stay together.
I am less bothered by the difference in intelligence as by his seeming indifference or even curiosity about subjects that are important to you.  One of my best friends was a man who never went to college, but who could discuss almost any topic, simply because he was curious about the world.  Do you really want to settle for a life without the kind of joy you might feel with someone who shares the big things with you, and for whom the little differences don’t matter? Imagine your life together five years from now. I rather doubt you would be joyfully planning your future with him. It’s unfair for you to try to make this man into something he’s not, or vice versa.  When I married for the second time, “passion, tenderness, and joy” was part of our ceremony.  Be good to yourself.  Phyllis

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