My relationship with Alice was scrambled at first. I discovered her in third grade, and made the mistake of relying on my elementary school library’s humble selection and random availability. But, while her early years fell out of sequence to me, Alice’s companionship grew increasingly steady. By the time I began filling my gaps with the Alice stocks of multiple public libraries, I felt familiar with Alice, and with her friends, family, and antagonists, on a deeply personal level. Her presence in my development was subtle, but vital. Early on, Alice introduced me to sex, puberty, and loss. Later, she taught me that each of these things are natural, inevitable, and perfectly okay. In a world of well-intended yet dangerously misleading sugarcoating, Alice was honest to me. She was crucially imperfect, as all role models should be. I did not have to agree with her on everything, I did not even have to share her basic tastes and interests, to feel the strong connection that I did. I related to Alice because she questioned, blundered, transitioned, and blossomed parallel to myself.
As I have said, Alice has been a steady force in my life, but a subtle one. I have had extended periods without reading her books, and even ones where her name did not enter my mind. But her influence is very much inextricable. Last week, nearly a decade after meeting Alice, I was accepted into the University of Chicago. Unexpectedly, my mind wandered to Patrick, beloved, brainy Patrick, and I swelled with excitement and pride at the prospect of following in his footsteps.
Ms. Reynolds Naylor, thank you. Your fictional world has made my real one just a bit better.
My computer is playing tricks on me, and changing the font now and then on emails from readers, but I very much appreciated your letter. Congratulations on your acceptance into the University of Chicago. It brings back memories of the time I lived on Hyde Park Boulevard, and worked as a medical receptionist at one of the University hospitals. Telling me that Alice was honest, was the highest compliment you could give me.