Critical Blueprint Summary—Alice, I Think by Susan Juby
1. What happened to me as I read?
I wasn’t sure if I was going to like Alice at first. I thought I might have a hard time relating to her. After all, I wasn’t homeschooled, my parents aren’t hippies, and I’m not from a small town. But as I read on, I warmed to her. Alice’s “weirdness” resonated strongly with me, and I appreciated her somewhat alternative perspective on life, which struck me as both adorably naïve yet incredibly perceptive at the same time.
As I read Alice, I Think, I laughed out loud a lot but I also found myself cringing with embarrassment rather frequently—especially when Alice is caught having used makeup to enhance her bruised face or when she relates the story of when she was babysitting and was caught going through the parents’ CD collection and making a tape of—gasp—Britney Spears!
2. Which features of the book caused my responses?
As far as I can remember, the book as a physical object did not affect my reading experience in any meaningful way, other than the fact that my copy was the mass-market paperback version which made it easy to transport. I attribute most of my responses to this book to the fact that I saw much of my own teenage experience reflected in Alice’s story. I was not homeschooled, nor did I grow up in a small town, but I could still relate to Alice in many ways. Alice’s experiences, as absurd as some of them are, are still very much a reflection of a typical teenage experience. The bad haircut episode in particular really struck a chord for me. What teenager isn’t sensitive about their hair? And her hilarious first attempt at driving had me reminiscing about the first time I operated a car. Of course, my experience wasn’t as crazy as Alice’s, but it certainly was memorable.
My response to this book had also had a lot to do with my history as a reader. Right away, I recognized the diary form as a convention which is utilized in several other novels I have read such as Bridget Jones’ Diary and The Princess Diaries. I find the diary format very accessible, and it made it easy for me to accept how self-absorbed Alice is at times and her occasional descent into mean-spiritedness. It reminded me of when I was in my early teens and would vent my angst by scribbling furiously into my diary. Though most of the time I didn’t actually mean half of what I wrote, the act of writing it down was cathartic. I sense that it must be this way for Alice, too.
3. What does this book ask of readers if they are to enjoy what it offers?
This book asks readers to get inside a teenage girl’s mind—a task which isn’t always easy, especially if you are not a girl or a teenager. Fortunately, the diary format helps to facilitate this. Readers must also be careful not to take Alice too seriously. Her story is not necessarily a realistic depiction of the teenage experience, but rather one that is exaggerated and hyperbolized for comedic effect. Also, there are several events in this novel which are completely implausible. To some degree, readers must be willing to suspend their sense of disbelief and accept the ridiculous in order to fully enjoy and appreciate Alice’s story.
4. Why is this book worth my teenagers’ time and attention?
Teens are often looking for reassurance that it’s okay to be different, and that’s certainly a message this book strongly reinforces. Alice is a bit of an oddball, but she’s also easy to relate in that she has the same insecurities and faces a lot of the same challenges that all teenagers face on their path to adulthood. Also, I think teens will appreciate Alice’s honest and candid commentary, particularly as it refers to the adults in her life, as well as her biting sarcasm. I would also argue that this book is worth reading simply because it is so funny. Teens are likely to have a very enjoyable reading experience, and that in itself is important.
5. Which would be the most appropriate way of introducing this book to the young people I have in mind?
Alice, I Think would appeal most to teenage girls (though I wouldn’t discourage a teenage boy from reading it.) I would consider grouping it with other diary-form novels, as this is a popular and accessible narrative form for this demographic. Alice, I Think is often compared to Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging , Adrian Mole, and Bridget Jones’ Diary. In this light, I might choose to highlight Alice McCloud as Canada’s own teenage Bridget Jones, or something along those lines.
6. What do I know of the background of this book – about its author, how it came to be written, or the place where it is set, and so on – that might interest the YA reader and stimulate their desire to read?
Alice, I Think takes place in Smithers, the northern British Columbia town where the author Susan Juby was raised. YA readers who come from small towns or whose parents were raised in small towns may be interested in this small town connection.
Readers might also be interested to know the manuscript for this book was rejected several times by publishers before Thistledown, a small, regional press out of Saskatoon offered to publish it in 2000. It was the firm’s fastest selling book—they sold out of stock in less than a year. Then, HarperCollins came calling, and Juby inked a six-figure North American deal for the next two Alice books, and a new agreement for the rerelease of the first book.
7. Are there books by the same author, or by other authors, which relate to this one and which the YA readers have already read, or perhaps ought to read before reading this one? And are there books that follow on from this one?
As I mentioned, Juby followed up Alice, I Think with two more Alice books—Miss Smithers, and Alice, MacLeod, Realist at Last. I would suggest that readers who have read and enjoyed the first book go on to read these two titles as well. I would also point readers to Susan Juby’s other books for teens—Another Kind of Cowboy, and Getting the Girl.
To readers who are interested in a male perspective, I would recommend the Adrian Mole series. Comparisons are often drawn between Adrian Mole and the Alice books, and I would encourage anyone who has read and enjoyed one, to read the other. And, let’s not forget that the novel makes several references to The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. This book opens up the door for readers to attempt those titles as well.