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Alice in Charge [Hardcover]

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
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Book Description

June 15 2010 Alice (Book 22)
Alice’s memorable last year of high school is being overshadowed by some very difficult situations. A sudden increase in vandalism at the school leads Alice to discover an angry and violent group of students—teenage Neo-Nazis. Then an awkward hallway encounter gets a classmate to confess that a new, attentive teacher has been taking advantage of her. All at once, Alice’s safe and comfortable school starts feeling strange and serious—all this plus the normal senior year pressures of college applications and life-making decisions. Alice has two options: step up or melt down. The choice is simple, and true to the character that readers have loved for years….Alice steps up—in a big way.

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About the Author

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has written more than 135 books, including the Newbery Award–winning Shiloh and the Alice series. She lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland. To hear from Phyllis and find out more about Alice, visit AliceMcKinley.com.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

 

Starting Over

It was impossible to start school without remembering him.

Some kids, of course, had been on vacation when it happened and hadn’t seen the news in the paper. Some hadn’t even known Mark Stedmeister.

But we’d known him. We’d laughed with him, danced with him, argued with him, swum with him, and then . . . said our good-byes to him when he was buried.

There was the usual safety assembly the first day of school. But the principal opened it with announcements of the two deaths over the summer: a girl who drowned at a family picnic, and Mark, killed in a traffic accident. Mr. Beck asked for two minutes of silence to remember them, and then a guy from band played “Amazing Grace” on the trumpet.

Gwen and Pam and Liz and I held hands during the playing, marveling that we had any tears left after the last awful weeks and the day Liz had phoned me, crying, “He was just sitting there, Alice! He wasn’t doing anything! And a truck ran into him from behind.”

It helps to have friends. When you can spread the sadness around, there’s a little less, somehow, for each person to bear. As we left the auditorium later, teachers handed out plas­tic bracelets we could wear for the day—blue for Mark, yellow for the freshman who had drowned—and as we went from class to class, we’d look for the blue bracelets and lock eyes for a moment.

“So how did it go today?” Sylvia asked when she got home that afternoon. And without wait­ing for an answer, she gave me a long hug.

“Different,” I said, when we disentangled. “It will always seem different without Mark around.”

“I know,” she said. “But life does have a way of filling that empty space, whether you want it to or not.”

She was right about that. Lester’s twenty-fifth birthday, for one. I’d bought him a tie from the Melody Inn. The pattern was little brown fig­ures against a bright yellow background, and if you studied them closely, you saw they were tiny eighth notes forming a grid. I could tell by Lester’s expression that he liked it.

“Good choice, Al!” he said, obviously sur­prised at my excellent taste. “So how’s it going? First day of your last year of high school, huh?”

“No, Les, you’re supposed to say, ‘This is the first day of the rest of your life,’” I told him.

“Oh. Well then, this is the first minute of the first hour of the first day of the rest of your life. Even more exciting.”

We did the usual birthday thing: Lester’s favorite meal—steak and potatoes—the cake, the candles, the ice cream. After Dad asked him how his master’s thesis was coming and they had a long discussion, Les asked if I had any ideas for feature articles I’d be doing for The Edge.

“Maybe ‘The Secret Lives of Brothers’?” I suggested.

“Boring. Eat, sleep, study. Definitely boring,” he said.

From her end of the table, Sylvia paused a moment as she gathered up the dessert plates. “Weren’t you working on a special tribute to Mark?” she asked. Now that I was features editor of our school paper, everyone had suggestions.

“I am, but it just hasn’t jelled yet,” I said. “I want it to be special. Right now I’ve got other stuff to do, and I haven’t even started my college applications.”

 “First priority,” Dad said.

“Yeah, right,” I told him. “Do you realize that every teacher seems to think his subject comes first? It’s the truth! ‘Could anything be more important than learning to express yourselves?’ our English teacher says. ‘Hold in those stomach muscles, girls,’ says the gym teacher. ‘If you take only one thing with you when you leave high school, it’s the importance of posture.’ And Miss Ames says she doesn’t care what else is on our plate, the articles for The Edge positively have to be in on time. Yada yada yada.”

“Wait till college, kiddo. Wait till grad school,” said Lester.

“I don’t want to hear it!” I wailed. “Each day I think, ‘If I can just make it through this one . . .’ Whoever said you could slide through your senior year was insane.”

Lester looked at Sylvia. “Aren’t you glad you’re not teaching high school?” he asked. “All this moaning and groaning?”

Sylvia laughed. “Give the girl a break, Les. Feature articles are the most interesting part of a newspaper. She’s got a big job this year.”

“Hmmm,” said Lester. “Maybe she should do an article on brothers. ‘My Bro, the Stud.’ ‘Life with a Philosophy Major: The Secret Genius of Les McKinley.’”

“You wish,” I said.

•••

In addition to thinking about articles for The Edge and all my other assignments, I was thinking about Patrick. About the phone conversation we’d had the night before. Patrick’s at the University of Chicago now, and with both of us still raw after Mark’s funeral, we’ve been checking in with each other more often. He wants to know how I’m doing, how our friends are handling things, and I ask how he’s coping, away from everyone back home.

“Mostly by keeping busy,” Patrick had said. “And thinking about you.”

“I miss you, Patrick,” I’d told him.

“I miss you. Lots,” he’d answered. “But remember, this is your senior year. Don’t give up anything just because I’m not there.”

“What does that mean?” I’d asked.

I’d known what he was saying, though. We’d had that conversation before. Going out with other people, he meant, and I knew he was right—Patrick is so reasonable, so practical, so . . . Patrick. I didn’t want him to be lonely either. But I didn’t feel very reasonable inside, and it was hard imagining Patrick with someone else.

“We both know how we feel about each other,” he’d said.

Did we? I don’t think either of us had said the words I love you. We’d never said we were

dating exclusively. With nearly seven hundred miles between us now, some choices, we knew, had already been made. What we did know was that we were special to each other.

I thought of my visit to his campus over the summer. I thought of the bench by Botany Pond. Patrick’s kisses, his arms, his hands. . . . It was hard imagining myself with someone else too, but—as he’d said—it was my senior year.

“I know,” I’d told him, and we’d said our long good nights.

In my group of best girlfriends—Pamela, Liz, and Gwen—I was the closest to having a steady boy­friend. Dark-haired Liz had been going out with Keeno a lot, but nothing definite. Gwen was see­ing a guy we’d met over the summer when we’d volunteered for a week at a soup kitchen, and Pamela wasn’t going out with anyone at present. “Breathing fresh air” was the way she put it.

There was a lot to think about. With our parents worrying over banks and mortgages and retirement funds, college seemed like a bigger hurdle than it had before. And some colleges were more concerned with grades than with SAT scores, so seniors couldn’t just slide through their last year, especially the first semester.

“Where are you going to apply?” I asked Liz. “Gwen’s already made up her mind. She’s going to sail right through the University of Maryland and enter their medical school. I think it’s some sort of scholarship worked out with the National Institutes of Health.”

“She should get a scholarship—all these sum­mers she’s been interning at the NIH,” said Liz. “I don’t know—I think I want a really small liberal arts college, like Bennington up in Vermont.”

We were sitting around Elizabeth’s porch watching her little brother blow soap bubbles at us. Nathan was perched on the railing, giggling each time we reached out to grab one.

“Sure you want a small college?” asked Pamela, absently examining her toes, feet propped on the wicker coffee table. Her nails were perfectly trimmed, polished in shell white. “It sounds nice and cozy, but everyone knows your business, and you’ve got all these little cliques to deal with.”

“Where are you going to apply?” Liz asked her.

“It’s gotta be New York, that much I know. One of their theater arts schools, maybe. Some-body told me about City College, and someone else recommended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. I doubt I could get into Cornell, but they’ve got a good drama department. Where are you going to apply, Alice?”

I shrugged. “Mrs. Bailey recommends Maryland because they’ve got a good graduate program in counseling, and that’s where she got her degree.

But a couple of guys from church really like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. . . .”

“That’s a good school,” said Liz.

“. . . And I’ve heard good things about William and Mary.”

“Virginia?” asked Liz.

“Yes. Williamsburg. I was thinking I could visit both on the same trip.”

“You could always go to Bennington with me,” said Liz.

“Clear up in...

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5.0 out of 5 stars Consuming! Jan. 27 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book consumed my attention and I could not put it down. Recommended for anyone! Not the best of "Alice", but close.
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Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I keep hoping Naylor will step it up, but... July 25 2010
By Katie148 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Like several others who have already reviewed this book, I've grown up with Alice. I discovered her at age 12 and now, at age 28, I still read the newest release every year. And, also like others here, I have been sorely disappointed with many of the books since Alice has entered high school. This book was certainly not the worst of the series for me, but it still left me mildly disappointed and wanting more. *WARNING - a few minor spoilers in the review below, though nothing huge.*

I feel that the earlier Alice books were so strong because they focused mainly on Alice's relationships with her friends and family. It seems to me that the high school books have veered away from that and focus much more on "outside" forces, or the "issue of the month" - molestation, drunk driving, racism/prejudice against various groups, teen pregnancy - and instead of using these issues to really develop Alice's character and the characters of her friends and family, the issues are simply used to teach the reader a didactic lesson. I feel that Alice's friends Elizabeth and Pamela have become mere cardboard cutouts of what they once were. I used to laugh out loud at their antics and Alice's conversations with them; now their interactions are so general that if their names were removed from the text, I probably wouldn't even know who Alice was talking with. In this particular book, there is a scene where the girls are trying to teach Elizabeth how to put gas in her car, and Elizabeth gives up because the whole endeavor is too "phallic." That was the first glimpse I've gotten of the "old" Elizabeth I've known and loved in a very long time. I miss her!

I've said this before, but I also feel that Naylor has been missing a huge opportunity to create a great family-based storyline with the relationship between Alice and Sylvia. Practically the entire first half of the series focused around Alice desperately wanting a mother and trying to get her dad to marry Sylvia. I was so excited for Alice when it finally happened, and couldn't wait to see what Alice's life would be like now that she finally had the stepmom she'd wanted so badly. Well...Alice really hasn't seemed to care about having a stepmother in the least, and not seeing that dynamic explored in a meaningful way is probably my biggest disappointment of this series so far. The book "Dangerously Alice" is really the only one I can recall that tried to delve deeply into the Alice/Sylvia relationship, and I had high hopes that subsequent books would continue to explore it, but any real interaction between the two of them has been virtually nonexistent since. I just can't believe that after all the buildup and excitement over Alice finally getting her heart's desire, that entire aspect of her life has been pushed aside! There was a huge opportunity for some good Alice/Sylvia interaction in this particular book, when Alice finds out Sylvia has had to get a biopsy and is afraid she may have breast cancer. Alice really didn't seem to react to this news in any significant way other than to decide to limit her college applications to a local school in case the results are bad. For pete's sake, Alice's own mother died of cancer - wouldn't she be just a bit more concerned that her stepmother might have it, too?? I expected some tears and some real fear there, and instead I got nothing from her. What a waste of a good plotline.

There was one part in this book where I got a glimpse of the old Alice I used to know and love, and that was in the section where Alice goes on her college visits with Lester and royally screws up in planning them. For once, Alice didn't seem to know exactly what to do or how to handle the situation, and I found it funny and entertaining, more like the way Alice used to be when she'd get herself into an awkward or embarrassing moment and didn't know the best way to get herself out of it right away. Alice has seemed too perfect, too goody-goody, and too overly involved in school activities in recent books (not that there's anything wrong with being involved at school, but I find Alice's roster of school/volunteer activities a bit much since she's been in high school). It was nice to see Alice a little more human in that part of the book, and I'd like to see more of that.

I'm disappointed because this series is running out of time to pick up speed again and I'm losing hope that it will ever regain the magic it once had. Alice's senior year is half over and we're rapidly approaching the end of the series, and I'm sad that it probably will not go out with the bang I once imagined it would when I heard Naylor was planning on taking Alice all through high school and beyond. I wonder if Naylor's strength is really getting into the head of a young teenager and not an older one, and the series should have ended with "The Grooming of Alice," with the happy ending of Alice's dad and Sylvia getting engaged. It's been a gradual slide downhill from there for me, unfortunately.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Yet another "very special" Alice book June 17 2010
By Kate Expectations - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
(***CONTAINS SPOILERS***)
I still remember the day I first discovered the Alice series. I was 12 years old and having an absolutely miserable time in middle school when I happened upon the Alice books in the school library. Alice was so authentic and relatable to me at the time. I was hooked.
Now I'm nearly 29 and still reading. I finished Alice in Charge last night, and while I thought Intensely Alice was marginally better than many of the recent books, Alice in Charge once again disappointed me.
These books have become so heavy handed--each one is crammed full of preachy, "very special episode" subplots. In this book, Alice befriends a Sudanese refugee--rather conveniently, this coincides with the surfacing of a covert white supremacist group at her high school. Amy Sheldon is given a starring role in what is sort of the book's climax. I won't reveal it here, but I think Naylor took this subplot in a very predictable direction. And she's already confronted this "very special" issue and given it considerable attention in another one of the books. What is the real point of bringing it up again?
The dialogue between Alice and her friends falls flat. They simply don't speak the way teenagers talk. In fact, sometimes when various characters talk, they seem to serve only to hammer home the moral lesson Alice is learning. Naylor (or her editors) seem to want to avoid dating the books. This is admirable, but it makes Alice and her friends much less relatable and their world feels inauthentic. The books contain a few token references to Facebook and Starbucks, but are otherwise so devoid of pop culture that these token references stick out like someone's parent trying to be "hip to the scene." The characters often listen to "a CD." CDs are dinosaur technology to your average high school student. The names stick out to me as well. Many of them seem to be literally like `50s era names--Penny, Fran, Rosalind, etc. There's nary a Taylor or a Brianna to be seen.
Alice's own voice falls flat, too. We are frequently reading her description of someone's physical appearance--like every other page. It's about as predictable as the introductory chapters of The Babysitter's Club books at this point. I just don't see a contemporary teenager making an observation like someone has a "flat face." It's like we are supposed to get to know these characters because they have long brown hair, or they're tall, or whatever. It makes Alice seem shallow, which isn't true to her character. More than once, Alice has said, "There was so-and-so, all (insert number) pounds of her." Really? It's so superficial and just awkward to name a specific number like that.
I always thought Naylor's real talent as an author was giving depth to her characters. This is evident in the first book with Mrs. Plotkin, and later with characters such as Denise Whitlock--who, while a "very special" sort of character, was completely believable. I miss this depth. Nowhere is this more evident than in Alice's relationship with Sylvia, which remains largely unexplored.
Naylor doesn't have much time left to save this series. She has many loyal fans and reaches a wide demographic of readers. Even her youngest readers, many of whom look up to Alice, deserve better. Naylor is a gifted writer. At this point, I have to say, I wish she hadn't carried Alice into high school.
Rating: Two and a half stars. Amazon doesn't allow for half stars, so I just gave it two.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I wanted to like it, but... June 16 2010
By Alice fan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I've been reading Alice since I was 11 - I'm 22 now. I loved the earlier Alice books, but I feel as though this book, like Almost Alice, doesn't quite match up. Intensely Alice was a little bit better, but I felt like Naylor has increasing trouble writing in a high school environment. I used to be so impressed with her ability to get into a teenager's mind, but she just can't quite do it anymore. The dialogue was stilted - in one occasion, when the characters are in a sticky situation, a guy expresses his frustration by saying "Cripes!" and this is just one example. Naylor needs a young editor to tell her what teenagers no longer say and haven't said for decades.

If that was it, I wouldn't mind. But I also felt like we don't really get into Alice's head as well anymore. I really wanted to know more of her thoughts during the hot tub scene. I'm no prude, but I thought that scene was risque, which is fine, but I at least expected some kind of reaction from Alice. I also didn't understand why she decided she didn't want to go into journalism and I wanted more scenes with Patrick.

SPOILER: The neo-Nazi plot was a little boring, unrealistic, and anti-climactic. Nothing especially important or exciting happens and Alice easily heads off an attack by offering the neo-Nazis a chance to write for the newspaper. Seriously?? High schoolers are NOT THAT IMPRESSED WITH THE HIGH SCHOOL NEWSPAPER. I think Naylor would have been better off sticking to the Amy Sheldon plotline, which I thought was touching and well done, although Alice is a little bit too much of a goody-two-shoes. She really never does wrong, except for being unprepared for her college visits. Those scenes could have been so much better - we had the chance to see Alice's interactions with Lester, which are usually my favorite parts of the Alice books. I've missed them since Lester moved out and I was excited to see more of him in the college visits chapter. Instead, we just hear a lot about how Alice is stressed and overworked and under-prepared, which wasn't THAT interesting or revealing.

I really hope the last two books are better. I want to see the series through to the end, but for the last three years, I've been a little disappointed with the new book.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An After School Special....that no one asked for Aug. 22 2010
By Vespi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Like many other reviewers here, I have been reading the Alice books since I was 12 years old. I older now, and while I enjoyed the Alice books in my youth, the last few years I have barely been keeping up with them due to several reasons I will highlight below. While I thought the last Alice book was an improvement, this book set the series back WAY more than I had anticipated. I have never read an Alice book and felt like cringing for the author; no way could this have been written by her. First off, the whole book seemed to revolve around the school newspaper. I could not have thought such a topic could be so boring, but the whole Neo-Nazi subplot was so ridiculous along with every other "After School Special Topic" in the book. Some of the things that really annoyed me about this book/series in general:

1) Gwen the Super-Duper Magical Negro: (The phrase was coined by the filmmaker Spike Lee to describe how white people portray blacks in their works.) Since day one, Gwen has been such a Mary Sue/Magic Negro character, it makes me want to gag. She is constantly being described by Naylor as being insanely smart, beautiful, goal-oriented, kind to her family, helpful, etc, etc to the point that Alice is constantly putting herself down when comparing herself to Gwen. First off, no author should put down the protagonist like that to make another character look better. Secondly, Naylor seems almost obsessed with making herself look so progressive and liberal that she makes cardboard cut-out characters out of most of the black people in her books.

EDIT: I want to emphasize that I do not think it is impossible for a character to be extremely intelligent, morally decent, beautiful, goal-oriented etc; people who jump to this conclusion do not understand my argument. What I am pointing out is that Naylor is using social-literary archetypes on her tokenistic character, Gwen (you don't need a sociological background to see it!)

2) STARBUCKS!: In almost every single book since the mid 2000s Naylor has inserted several references to STARBUCKS! coffee. For someone who said she purposely shies away from putting pop-culture references in her novels so they seem timeless (i.e. not mentioning modern day popular bands, music, actors, films), it makes me wonder if she is getting royalties by mentioning Lester running to STARBUCKS! several times in every book. Seriously, for 20 books there is not one mention of STARBUCKS! and suddenly she cant even say "Lester drank some of his coffee" but it has to be "Lester drank some of his STARBUCKS!"

3) High School Newspaper no one cares about: This was probably the 2nd most irritating thing about this book. High school newspapers are NOT the coolest thing ever. Most people in high schools don't read them. Which makes it bizarre that Naylor things it has such a huge impact on the school, principals, teachers, Neo-Nazis...

4) Neo-Nazis: Naylors obsession with being so progressive continues with the laughable Neo-Nazi plot line, with most of the research appearing to have been done on the internet. Now if Naylor wanted to continue with her Very Special Episodes, I would have thought that perhaps a subplot of drug cartels or the rise of trans-national gangs such as MS-13, 18th Street as well as the Blood and Crips which are very active and present in Maryland and are a huge problem would have been more appropriate. But I digress; Naylor is not interested in anything that would portray non-whites in a negative light. That being said, I have a feeling with the end that Naylor is not done with this storyline and will drag it out, probably with Alice converting Curtis Butler into a non Neo-Nazi. That being said, why is Alice so nice to that scumbag? Offering him a chance to write for the school newspaper (I just about cried laughing at that) is NOT that appealing.

5) No idea how teenagers these days talk/act: Naylor truly shows her disconnect from modern teenage life here. Like just said before, no teenager would jump at the chance of writing for a school newspaper. Nor would they "scream with laughter" or "screech with laughter" or "cry with laughter" every few pages. Naylor needs a thesaurus. Also, why is she still describing school assemblies detailing safe sex and just glossing over eating disorders, alcoholism, etc? Will that be another book's special topic?

Plus, the whole: "Teens Start New Trend By Trading Dresses" is SO NOT NEW. My friends and I, and so many others have been doing it for AGES! This stuff is sometimes too painful to read.

6) Beat some more on Aunt Sally: For years now, Naylor has been using Aunt Sally as a punching bag and the butt of not-so-funny jokes. Now, I don't particularly like Aunt Sally because she seems to be from the 1950s (coincidentally, like the author) but I have not been amused by the "Let's bash the silly conservative aunt by shocking her with our liberal ways!" Honestly. Not funny. At all.

There were very few things I liked about this book, and they were hardly there. Like her friendship with Pamela and Elizabeth was barely there. It used to be the heart and soul of the novels, along with Lester and Ben, and of course Patrick. Her few scenes with Patrick were the only thing that brought a good laugh from me. I'm already going to predict Alice moving to Chicago sometime in the future to be with Patrick, maybe even marrying him.

I wish I could have written more, but I welcome any comments or questions people may have
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Cringeworthy.. (Some spoilers) March 26 2011
By X. wang - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Well, I picked up my first Alice book over six years ago. I was in sixth grade and I wrote my report on Reluctantly Alice. At the time I thought The Alice books were the most amazing books ever and I saw myself in her, so I followed Alice through middle school then high school. But I feel like the books are getting progressively worse. Like another reviewer; School newspapers are a joke! Not only was the whole "Bob White (neo nazis)" part so ridiculous it took up like half the book!
And maybe its just me, but the whole Dennis Granger taking advantage of Amy- a very slow girl- seems stupid too. I really don't see myself in her so much, I just keep hoping they get better. It really seems like Alice if loosing touch with teenagers today.
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