Alice and Me

I’d like to share my personal journey with the Alice series with you because it has given me so much joy – well, not quite over the years, but you will see:
All my girlfriends at school discovered them around the time I was 10 or 11, and we’d exchange and discuss all copies that were available in German at that time. Eventually, we started to outgrow them – plus the German editions had only been published up until the 14th book. (I think, they still are, but now I’m a proficient reader in English anyway.) A few weeks ago, I discovered “I like him, he likes her” on Amazon and wasn’t too excited about it, but it was irresistibly cheap and I needed some more enjoyable reading than what four years of law school have put me through. So, here I am, 23 years old, exploring Alice’s world for the first time in years, and it was among the oddest but most heartwarming experiences I’ve had in literature.

Twelve years ago, Alice was older than me: Liz got her first period before I did, Alice dated Patrick before I met my first boyfriend, and she had all these remarkable people around her, who helped her grow and mature. The only thing where I was way ahead of her, were my pierced earlobes, because my mum had taken care of that when I was an infant. In some ways, Alice used to be a role model, whether by making the right and the kind decisions or recognising and undoing her wrongs. When I returned to Alice’s world, I felt so close to her way of thinking (or your way of writing from the narrator’s perspective) and was back in a familiar place. At the same time, she had turned from an older sister to a younger one – as if I had become Carol, having been through so much that occupied her thoughts in her final years at high school. It was only now that I felt that protective, rooting for her goals and dreams like I would for a real person. Now that I am around Lester’s age, I find myself cheering her on. I admire her even more, because I wholeheartedly wish more people were as considerate as she is – one of the biggest advantages of being Alice in betwen, don’t you think? While I used to believe that most grown-ups were mature, or at least not as immature as teenagers are stereotypically seen, some have shown unexpected ignorance, obliviousness and selfishness since I entered the adult world. Alice, on the other hand, is a marvelous daughter, sister and friend, and she is so very, very, outstandingly considerate towards, well, anyone. If she were real, I would be so proud to know her.

The last time I visited my parents’ house, I took the first two books in the series back to my place, and read them in one evening. Although I hadn’t thought about the series as a whole for years, I realised numerous incidents and storylines from the first half of the series had always been on my mind when I encountered something/someone comparable in my teenage life: the times when Alice wanted to brush her teeth before kissing, Crystal fixing her perm, when Denise bullied her and later committed suicide, the fact that Rhode Island is tiny, Carol telling her that compatibility in a relationship comes down to many other factors than sex, Lester trying to bulk up by devouring lots of meat after his workout, shopping liszts. In a way, these big or small, meaningful or random moments would emerge from my subconscious and guide me through a new experience with some aftertaste of déjà-vu. Thank you for being my Mrs. Plotkin and Carol in many ways when my parents were more like Aunt Sally and my friends were like Pamela. Congratulations on creating memorable content through an American girl’s daily life.

By the way, the Wikipedia Article on the series says it has been banned from several libraries in the US, which I find is utter nonsense. Young adults should find out about sex, sexuality, consent and all biological/medical and emotional aspects as soon as they wish to, and in a safer environment than porn. If I had strong opinions on one issue, I’d still rather have my child consult five sources with varying stances than none at all. Have you seen the “Last week tonight” with John Oliver about sex education on youtube? It’s both hilarious and thought-provoking. The way your books address these topics helps counter false assumptions and insecurites, never suggesting any vulgarity, preaching or sensationalism. I think it was the right way.

There is so more I’d like to talk about, but at least the most important bits are out of the way. As for my questions… I’ve been wondering about the following things, but been too afraid of spoilers to search your website:

1. Was Alice’s roommate named after Glee actress Amber Riley? (Her character on Glee attended fictional McKinley High School.) Coincidence?

2. Did you always had Gwen in mind? What were the reasons why you added her to the Alice-Liz-Pamela trio in high school?

3. Is there anything major you would want to change or rearrange in the earlier books if you could? Or were you happy to just go one step at a time, finding out about Alice’s story at the same time that she was, and didn’t find the huge amount of backstory constraining?

That’s it for now. Yesterday, I ordered “Now I’ll tell you everything” right after finishing the preview in “You and me and the space in between” and can’t wait for Alice to overtake me on the road that is life again. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for her, her friends and for her family. I would be delighted if you could reply to my questions and I wish you all the best.

Phyllis replied:

Thank you so much for your long letter.  I’m not very good at matching names with nationalities, but my guess is that you are from Korea, reading German, and living in….the U.S.?   But I’m so glad you found the Alice books and they became your friends.  (By the way, “I Like Him, He Likes Her,” are the three bound books of Alice’s freshman year of high school; “Please Don’t Be True” are the three books of her sophomore year; “It’s Not Like I Planned it This Way,” are the books of her junior year, and “You and Me and Space Between,” are the senior year books.  You might want to read them in that order, ending with “Now I’ll Tell You Everything.”
I didn’t worry about the back story too much.  I tried to write each book so that even if a reader didn’t know about the ones that came before, I would tell just enough to let her enjoy the story, and hope I succeeded.  If you really truly want to follow Alice from the beginning, you would probably enjoy the three prequels–“Starting with Alice” (Alice in 3rd grade); “Alice in Blunderland,” (4th), and “Lovingly Alice,” (which includes a hilarious scene in which Alice asks about sex at the dinner table (Alice in 5th), and Lester, of course, is only a teen, and mortified.
I can’t remember how much I anticipated Gwen, or any of the other characters.  Some of them sort of drop out of Alice’s life, some meet up with her again, some are long-time friends, and some you don’t hear of again, because this is life.
I can’t think of anything I would change–because I covered so much of Alice’s life, if I skimped on something in one book, I probably added more in the next, I’m not sure.
You know, I think of bits and pieces of Alice’s life too.  Sometimes when I do something incredibly embarrassing, I tell myself I’m having an “Alice moment.”  Next year all 28 of the Alice books, including the prequels are coming out in a paperback set.  We haven’t quite decided how we’ll title it yet, but I’ll be sure to announce it when it reaches the bookstores.
Thank you so much for your long detailed letter.  I enjoyed reading and answering it.

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