It’s hard for me to remember elementary school without thinking of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice books. My mom brought one of the books home from the library one day, and Alice seemed so real that I loved her instantly. Living with just her dad and her older brother Lester (her mother died when she was little), Alice was always embarrassing herself by saying or doing the wrong thing. I related, to say the least. She and her best friends (shy Elizabeth and wild Pamela) talked about everything (boys, sex, bodies) that no one would talk to my friends and me about. Being a young girl involves so much shame—for feeling the way you do, for having the questions you have, for having the body you’ve grown into—but in the Alice books, nothing was off limits. And that, of course, is why they’ve been banned so many times–but this just means you can feel like a rebel when you read them.
But it wasn’t just the scandalous details that drew me to the books. It was the relationships. I loved reading about all the adventures Alice, Liz, Pam and eventually Gwen found themselves in. Who can forget the time they went on beach trips and bought bikinis! Or when Alice first kissed Patrick? Or that time they went on a train trip to Chicago and got groped by weird dudes (okay, so that one wasn’t a super-fun time, but it’s one of my strongest memories of the series)! Of course I loved reading about Alice’s on-again, off-again relationship with red-haired world traveler Patrick. But the bonds I cared most about were the ones between Alice, her dad and Lester. Their dynamic was so sweetly real, and I loved how open they were with each other. And then there were all the details about Alice’s mother, which are perfect if you’re in the mood for a good cry. The wedding dress in the attic? Lester’s letter from her? I can barely even think about it without crying.
Even as I grew older, I still read every single Alice book. During high school summers or when I was home on break from college, I’d take the newest Alice book out to the swing on my parents’ porch and read the whole thing in one sitting. There was something so reassuring about watching Alice grow up, even as I became older than her.
It’s hard to believe that I won’t be able to do that anymore, since the last Alice book came out last week. I finished it, appropriately enough, at my parents’ house while I was visiting for the weekend. Now I’ll Tell You Everything follows Alice from the beginning of college all the way up to her 60th year. It sounds like a strange timeline for a book, and I’ll admit that it did seem rushed sometimes, but I was surprised by how well it worked.
It turns out that I desperately wanted to know what happened to Alice and her friends. How often do you get the chance to find out where your favorite characters will be at 60? It was such a treat to go through all of Alice’s biggest life joys with her. I love hearing about her college experience, her job, her children and her marriage (but if you think I’m telling you who she ends up marrying, you’re bananas). However, the book also touches on a lot of the most heartbreaking experiences of Alice’s life, and I won’t lie, I teared up a few times.
Although I’m sad that the books are over, there couldn’t have been a better way to end the series. It’s so strange to think that I’ll no longer be able to look forward to my yearly check-in with Alice. I’ll miss Alice and her terrible singing voice (remember how she used to only sing when she was vacuuming?), her endless questions and her ability to say and do the most embarrassing things in every situation. Alice was there for me when I was an awkward and confused fifth grader and she’s still there for me at 27, when I’m just as awkward and confused as I ever was. Thank you, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, for creating an imperfect character who was a friend and role model to so many girls. We’ll all miss you, Alice McKinley.