Is Alice Squeaky Clean?

Question:

I’ve been reading the Alice books since middle school and have waited for each new one since then (over 10 years, wow!).
While I’ve enjoyed them enough to keep reading, I feel as though Alice has become less real of a character in the later books. Maybe it’s because I’m jealous of her – she’s a lot more mature and grounded than I was at that age.

I know Alice had her rebellious phase in “Outrageously Alice” or so, but lately she’s been more of the good foil to the trouble that other characters get into. Pamela gets pregnant – not Alice. Kids from the other school get drunk – not Alice. Brian turns evil – not Alice. Her escapades are mild and often solved by talking with her father. She’s a good role model, but no longer a compelling character.

I also think that sometimes the way she thinks reflects an older person’s thought process, and I don’t associate her with enough life experiences to have developed them. For example, she broke up with Sam and decided that she would never tell anyone about Sam’s mother’s photoshoot offer, as that would make Sam (and his mother) look too pathetic. It wasn’t that she did this but that she noted to herself the maturity of her decision that seemed odd. She also thinks about how unfair it is that Pamela should need to consider a baby now, without giving voice to being excited about a baby, which seems like a more adult point of view. Then, she decides when Sylvia’s made a German chocolate cake that if she can’t confide the source of her grumpiness, she ought to act happy for everyone else’s sake. I wish I could instinctively behave that well now, and I wish I could have then.

In addition, the way that Alice relates to Amy Sheldon is so patronizing! Amy’s character used to be really interesting to me: she was the girl a little bit odd, right, who would talk about her chickenpox scabs at inappropriate moments. In the latest book or two, Amy’s turned into someone who is not just socially unconventional but actually developmentally challenged. Alice has to explain to her about “women’s things, bathroom talk, just for in private” when Amy exclaims that she’s gotten her period – Amy was never that heavy-handedly clueless in the other books. Or, did I miss something there? All of a sudden, Amy’s in special ed, like the Shannon character in For Better or For Worse.
But, on the flip side, if Alice is really so sympathetic and mature, maybe she could have mirrored Amy’s enthusiasm first. She could have exclaimed “hey, that’s great!” before going on to lecture Amy…

I was wondering if Alice’s character shift was a conscious decision on your part. It does seem more in Pamela’s character to be wild and act rashly and get pregnant, and more in Alice’s character to think before she acts and avoid having sex (even just barely), but is Alice too good and too smart to make serious mistakes? Is she so good that she is every other character’s moral beacon? Is this part of Alice’s character development, to show how much more mature she’s gotten? I think she’s surpassed her friends at this point. Do you feel any pressure from your publisher or your reader base to convert Alice into a squeaky-clean role model?

Well, best wishes. I’m looking forward to the next book, and sad that the series will be over soon.

Phyllis replied:

 

You have a valid point and there are others who agree with you.  My editor usually pushes me in the direction of wilder behavior for Alice rather than better.  It all probably has to do with the character that has formed in my mind.  I’ve raised her, so to speak, since she was in third grade, in “Starting with Alice,” and with every book, knowing her mind as intimately as anyone’s, I can only have her do what I feel would be natural for her.  If the story were from the point of view of another character, it might be entirely different.  I know normal, living, breathing girls who are as much or more “squeaky clean” as Alice, and I know normal girls who are far more adventurous.  I do think that as Alice grows older, she will act and think more maturely.  But as you will see in “Alice in Charge,” due out in another week or so, she makes several mistakes, one careless, and one premeditated.  Regarding Amy, I think you are correct.  I was checking the books for something else, and in reading previous descriptions of Amy, found that I’m not consistent in describing her behavior or her understanding.   I simply didn’t know this character enough in my mind when I introduced her to do justice to her, and now have to stick to the character she became as the books progressed.  My fault entirely.

Thanks for a well-written letter.  I’m glad that you’ve stuck with the series for so long.  Please do remember, however, that not all girls error by drinking or having sex or trying pot–these kinds of behaviors.  Some error, as Alice does, in hasty judgement, impulsive decisions, revenge motives and such.  Rebellion and disobedience can take many forms, and many girls don’t smoke or drink, not for any moral reason, but because it just doesn’t appeal.  We need to be careful of stereotypes–the feeling that all girls want to drink, all girls want to try smoking, etc.   Alice would far rather jump into bed with Patrick, but she hasn’t had much luck in that department.

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