A Messed-up Girl Like Me

Question:
a lot of girls seem to write to you saying they are thankful you wrote the Alice books because the characters seem so real and normal that they can really relate to them.  i had the opposite experience.  you wrote about these pretty middle class white girls who face all life’s problems from within a secure and stable home environment, their parents and teachers basically care about them, they have always had friends since elementary school, they are all thin and pretty enough that there is always a boy crushing on them.. meanwhile i came from an unsettled family, was molested at a young age, my parents were violent, i never had a friend group because we moved all the time and i was depressed so no one liked me, and i got into drugs and sleeping around by age 14 so i never had those cute innocent relationships that come so easily to girls like Alice..

i would read the Alice books in order to try to get a glimpse of girls who had a normal, stable life like that.  they are really well written but mostly fascinated me for that reason.  eventually it started making me feel too lonely and envious that i would never have these things and i had to stop reading.  it also started making me feel like if only i was a pretty, cheerful white girl, or if (like Alice) i stayed away from drugs and men who took advantage of me, then i would deserve to have all those other things like supportive family and friends, so it was my fault that my life wasn’t like that.  i doubt i will ever read the last book because just hearing about how she turns out to be so fulfilled with a loving husband and children makes me want to throw up.  of COURSE she will have a happy ending but life isnt like that for everyone and it’s too painful to keep hearing about.

i love that you answer all these letters and make yourself so available to your readers.  it surprised me how real and understanding you seem to be and so open to sharing from your life experience.  i would have thought that there is no way a kindly white grandmother type could understand or be open to a messed up girl like me but after reading your responses to readers i actually felt like you would in some way.  so thank you for making me feel a little less worthless compared to the ‘Alice-and-friends’ type of girls.

sorry for writing you a letter filled with ugly words instead of praise.   i hope you are not offended.  much love.

Phyllis replied:

They were not ugly words; they were true words.  And yes, Alice’s problems and those of her friends are very different from those of many girls, but they also ring true for many.  As I’ve made clear in writing the series, I am following the life of one particular girl in my imagination.  She cannot be “all-girls.” She can’t represent all girls.  A lot of it is taken from my own memories and those of my friends, and I can’t change the environment I grew up in any more than you can. We deal with the cards we were handed in life, and do the best we can.  Some are unluckier than others, through no fault of their own.

I do think that you painted a rather idealistic picture of Alice and her friends, however.  One grows up without a mother.  Another has a mother with a drinking problem, and she herself gets pregnant as a teen.  A third friend is sexually abused by a family friend.  Do they have to get on drugs too to be authentic?  I’m sure that much of the time they didn’t feel like “pretty white girls” with all the breaks.

I’m not trying to belittle your feelings or overlook the fact that they had advantages you did not.  But everyone, no matter their race or homelife, will suffer great sadnesses in their lives.  Not all of my books are about girls like  Alice.  Read “Faith, Hope and Ivy June” for life with a coal miner’s granddaughter in Kentucky; read “Send No Blessings” about a girl in a large family, living in a double wide trailer in West Virginia. Read “Ice” about a girl in New York State whose dad is in prison.  And if you aren’t acquainted with the books of these two wonderful African American writers, read Jacqueline Woodson’s “Brown Girl Dreaming,” or Sharon Draper’s “Darkness Before Dawn.”  If it helps, I DO care about you, and I thank you so much for taking the time to write to me.  Not offended in the least.

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