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October 2, 2007

Alice I Think by Susan Juby

After much pondering, I’ve finally discovered it. Why will Lee Fiora never be Holden Caulfield? She’s got way too broad a perspective, that’s why. She tells her story in retrospect. She is absolutely aware of herself, which makes her story only ordinary. Holden Caulfield, on the other hand, has no idea (or control over) how he is seen by the outside world. He thinks he does– the guy’s got some kind of charisma, which is why you read Catcher in the Rye when you’re fourteen, and fall in love with him. But he’s really clueless, afterall, which is how he manages to break your heart fifteen years later. That he is so sad, and hurt, and young. Holden’s powerlessness is powerful, narratively speaking.

Susan Juby’s novel Alice I Think manages this very same power, which is the reason why this book was successful in its YA incarnation, and why it deserves the same success now that it’s been repackaged for grown-ups. Teenaged Alice has been traumatized by years of homeschooling, and is now about to be unleashed upon the real world. She has to deal with her embarrassing hippie parents, her complete lack of social skills, her counsellor’s demand that she compile life goals, and the fact of her small town of Smithers B.C. Admittedly, the premise sounds a bit formulaic, but it’s not, because nothing gets solved. Alice MacLeod is unforgiveably atrocious, in that horribly odious way only insecure teenagers are capable of. In the way that poor Holden Caulfield was, with a take-no-prisoners attitude that could be interpreted as “cool” only if you were his peer. Also similar to Holden, with a relationship with a younger sibling firmly establishing sympathy.

Alice, a diarist, is also much like Adrian Mole. I adore Adrian Mole, and wouldn’t make such a comparison lightly, which is not to say that what Juby has done here is not original. 25 years after the fact, in Smithers BC instead of Leicester, she wants to be a cultural critic instead of an intellectual, and Alice is most definitely her own person. But she is indeed a tribute to Mole, who, like Holden, changes as we do. (The diary format, with its immediacy and voice particularly lends itself to this solidification of perspective). All three of these characters are teenagers so horrible that their parents can hardly stand them, and that they are written in a way that they are simultaneously so loveable is really quite amazing.

Alice I Think is hilarious and well in tune with the zeitgeist for a novel depicting someone so far outside of it. Younger readers will identify with this “outsiderness” (a staple of young-adult novels after all), and older readers will view it in a clearer light– she’s so sure of herself, but of course she’s not. All ages will be amused though– I laughed out loud throughout. Juby is an excellent writer and her Alice a marvelous creation whose voice is all her own and never fails.

2 thoughts on “Alice I Think by Susan Juby”

  1. tinylittlelibrarian says:

    This is one of my YA faves – they are SO funny. I heard Juby speak once and she was a hoot, too, she spoke about being a teen herself and being depressed and listening to rock ballads in her living room with the curtains pulled. I love that she realizes how important humour is to getting through growing up.

  2. Kerry says:

    Adolescence is a truly ridiculous time, though it’s funny how seriously we take ourselves whilst in the midst of it. I love how Juby captures that contradiction with Alice’s voice, which is what gives this book such wide appeal.

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