Young Adult Education

Boyfriends, Beaches and Boobs: ‘Alice in Rapture, Sort Of' by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

I know I’ve already written about Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice books, but I strongly believe that no one can ever have too much Alice McKinley. Today we’re on to the second book in the series and one of my favorites, Alice in Rapture, Sort Of.

Alice in Rapture, Sort Of is the book where Alice starts for real-real dating Red-Haired World-Traveler Patrick Long, and so she spends most of the book worrying about kissing him. A simple kiss is so fraught with tension for Alice, who’s only going into 7th grade. To fifth-grade me, though, she seemed impossibly old and mature.

Alice’s dad romantically declares that summer “The Summer of the First Boyfriend,” and if that sentence doesn’t excite you, then you were never a 12 year old girl. Alice and her best friends Pamela and Elizabeth all have boyfriends for the first time, and they spend the summer getting ice cream and hanging out at the playground. When I originally read this book, I thought that was the most adult behavior ever. You know how grown-ups are, always getting soft serve and hanging out on the jungle gym (full disclosure: now that I am an adult, I actually do spend way too much time eating ice cream and not nearly enough time on jungle gyms).

It’s of the utmost importance that they all have boyfriends when 7th grade starts, because as Pamela tells them, “If you start junior high without a boyfriend, the guys will think you’re a dog, and then you’ll have to work twice as hard to be popular.” This is probably why I had to work so hard to be popular in junior high. And high school. And college.

While The Agony of Alice was mostly about Alice’s search for a mother and her relationship with Mrs. Plotkin, Alice in Rapture, Sort Of is almost exclusively about boys and dating. Specifically, the rules of dating. Pick up the phone after the second ring because the first ring makes you seem too eager, and the third like you don’t care. The boy should always walk on the outside of the sidewalk, so if a car drives by and splashes water, the girl won’t get wet. Don’t give a boy any gift that touches his skin until you’re engaged (that rule courtesy of Alice’s Aunt Sally). And always eat 4 crackers before going out so your stomach won’t growl. All of these rules stressed me out so much when I was a kid. Dating sounded like the scariest thing ever, even worse than public speaking or gym class. Of course, if I’d only known that I wouldn’t be going on any dates for, like, a good ten years, I wouldn’t have worried so much.

This is the Alice book I think of as The One Where Alice Takes the Trip to the Beach, because her dad miraculously volunteers to take her, Elizabeth and Pamela to stay in his coworker’s beach house for a week. To ten year old me, this sounded like heaven. Also, Alice’s dad buys her a 2 piece bathing suit that she says makes her feel like a new person, Patrick shows up with Lester, and overall this was just nothing like my junior high experience. Words like “2 piece bathing suit” and “beach” and “boyfriend” did not even enter into my life (instead I had words like “Winnie the Pooh spaghetti strap shirt” and “writing in my journal a lot” and “being really into Savage Garden”).

At the end of the book, Alice breaks up with Patrick because the pressure of being in a relationship is just too much for her. All that kissing! They decide to be “special friends,” which Patrick says means they’re more than friends but they can still “date other kids.” So Alice ends up starting junior high without a boyfriend after all.

Some Highlights:

-Alice and Patrick look through a book called Celebrity Yearbook, where the idea is to look at high school photos of celebrities and figure out who they are. The examples used are Johnny Carson and Woody Allen. This was a different time, indeed!

-Alice thinks she’s found the best gift for Patrick when she gives him a miniature drum set made out of Lucite. She brags about it to everyone, until she finds out Lucite is just plastic.

-Alice says “’When you have a lot of cleavage you can wear a gold locket and it almost gets buried between your breasts.’ I dreamed of having enough cleavage some day to be able to bury a locket in it.”

-Remember when Pamela buys the Uplift Spandex Ahh Bra? And the boys steal it and make fun of her? And she gets so embarrassed she cries? This whole book is just Pamela getting embarrassed because of her boobs and then crying. Seriously, her boobs are such drama starters.

-Alice and her friends have so many sleepovers, and this put me into a serious nostalgia funk. I didn’t realize how good I had it with the every-weekend sleepovers I used to have with my lady friends. There comes a point where your friends are all getting married or living with their significant others and you just can’t do sleepovers in the same way. Like I can’t just roll up to my BFF’s place, sleeping bag in tow, and be all, “I’m here for Girl’s Night!” But sometimes I still want to fall asleep while talking about which boy from our class I would make out with if I had to, you know?

-Pamela’s swim suit is “a red and pink bikini and a little bra that had no straps.” How is this girl going into 7th grade? Seriously. I’m pretty sure I was wearing a one-piece that also had a skirt at that age. Anyway, Pamela’s boobs once again steal the show when she gets in a splash fight with some guys in the ocean and her top slides off. Naturally, she gets embarrassed and cries about it (who among us wouldn’t?). Those boobs!

-Patrick invites Alice to dinner at the country club. This was a scene that really stuck with me, because it was so nerve-wracking. Which fork to use? Why doesn’t the menu have prices? Alice brings a quarter with her in case there’s a pay toilet, but I have never in my life encountered such a thing. Are pay toilets even a thing anymore? As a kid I was like, “What am I going to do when a 7th grade boy invites me to a country club to eat chocolate mousse?” To this day, I am waiting for that date to happen.

-“Then I started crying again. Between the sixth and seventh grades, something happens to your eyes. They water a lot. I think it’s so you can get all the watering out of the way before you begin wearing mascara.” – Alice is full of wisdom.

-The newest Alice book comes out on May 22nd, and you can read an excerpt here! Oh, and the last Alice book is supposed to come out in 2013. Don’t worry about me, guys. I’ll be fine. Totally not panicking or anything.

-Phyllis Reynolds Naylor maintains a fantastic blog about Alice, and she answers reader questions! After one out-of-touch parent complained about the sexual content of the books and told Naylor she should be “ashamed,” Naylor had this to say:

“I’m sorry that you are disappointed, but I am not in the least ashamed. I do understand that some people feel that books for children and teens should be inspirational, and while I believe there is a place for such books, I also believe in books that give a presentation of real life, and how people of various ages deal with emotions and experiences unique to them. I hear from hundreds and hundreds of readers of all ages. Girls who have never been kissed, never have a boyfriend write to me quite happy or not with their lives, and I hear from others who are sexually experienced, equally happy or unhappy with theirs. My aim is to give honest presentations of one girl’s life, along with her friends, the choices she makes, both wise and foolish.”

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, you’re my hero.

What about you…what’s your favorite Alice book? Was the summer before your 7th grade year even remotely as exciting as Alice’s? And, most importantly, are pay toilets still a thing?? As always, I’d love to hear your suggestions for books I should cover in Young Adult Education! Leave a comment, e-mail me at, or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.

Image via Open Library