on April 13, 2004
I greatly enjoyed Susan Juby's debut novel "Alice, I Think". I did not put it down from start to finish. Having been home schooled myself by a relatable "hippie" mother for a short period during my elementary years; I found many of the issues to be whole and humorous truths. The plot line was not exactly firm, but as Juby was aiming to portray the diaried life of a teenage girl, we cannot entirely expect her to provide one. The form in which Alice scribed her life was hilarious; the dry humor could be lost on some. The characters were eclectic, and provided much spice to the story. I enjoyed Alice's attempts to become "alternative", trying the replicate her cousin franks hair cut (with disastrous-and then fufilling- consequences), "thrifting", and trying hard to become immune to pop culture, while inadvertently submitting herself to the worst form.
All in all, this was a well-rounded read, with laughs, life lessons, and much more. It is to be avoided if you lack the talent to pick up on dry humor, subtle sarcasm, and a strong sense of reading between the lines for humor not plainly stated. The book is a plain farce, and should be taken as so.
on July 22, 2010
There are far too many earnest, serious people in the world. You know who you are.
Fortunately for all of us, writer Susan Juby is not one of them.
Juby's brilliant debut, Alice, I Think, had me riveted from the first page after it was released in 2000. A social misfit who was bullied in Grade 1 for showing up on the first day of school dressed as a "hobbit" -- in a burlap sack tunic and pointy green hat -- Alice is forced to drop out and stay home to be educated by her vegetarian hippie parents, with only her younger, fish-keeping science-y brother, MacGregor, and her parents' eclectic collection of friends, for companionship.
After establishing herself as an aspiring alternative rock critic with a new haircut, Alice pursues journalism and enters a beauty pageant in Miss Smithers (2004) and, most recently, experiments with screenwriting, dating, paid work and parties, eventually finding out the importance of staying true to yourself in Alice MacLeod, Realist At Last (HarperTrophy Canada, 2005). Now the series is the basis of a new television sitcom appearing on CTV's Comedy Network.
This coming-of-age saga set in small-town Smithers, in the B.C. interior, has established Juby as Canada's foremost teen angst writer. Critics adore the Canuck, who is also a hit in the U.S. and Australia.
Juby is an irreverent, insightful wit who is one of those people you'd like to have as an extended houseguest if a construction crew suddenly cut your digital cable line. Although she says she's "self-centred," she also admits she's "loyal" and a "good listener." "It's a weird combination," admits Juby, who has many other surprising qualities. She eschews trendy, arty Vancouver in favour of Nanaimo.
"It's like someone moved Phoenix, Ariz., to San Diego," says Juby. "A mix of hideous development and amazing natural beauty. It used to have a downmarket reputation and I like that about it. I'm a fan of not-trendy places."
Juby's home is also her workplace.
"I almost never get lonely. I think I may have been a hermit in another life. Also, the dog's quite a good conversationalist and my husband doesn't mind me calling him six times a day. He's very good that way," Juby says.
Juby is finishing up her fourth novel, Another Kind of Cowboy, which heads in a new direction: Horses. Juby has again gone back into her past, this time reviving her experience as a dressage rider to create two new characters: A girl and a young gay male teen who attend a tony private school on Vancouver Island. The book is due in the fall of 2007.
Horseback riding at a private school isn't your typical comedy theme, but as usual Juby knows how to find the humour even in a poignant situation: The father of the gay student at the equestrian school moves out of home into an RV in the front yard.
"I've come up with a very dysfunctional sort of exclusive boarding school for equestrian girls," says Juby. "It's a huge departure, which makes me nervous. I hope I don't alienate the people who read the Alice books. The Alice books are a sympathetic look at how difficult it is to grow up and this new book is basically the same thing ... it deals with a different set of circumstances. I think it's important to try different things in my writing. Also, horse books have always run a close second to comedies for me, so I had to write one.
"I started to think about what horses represent," says Juby, recalling her own obsession with horses as a teen. She concludes it's all about the freedom of riding, combined with the feeling of being in control of a 750-kg animal.
Juby says her own interest in horses as a teen was fostered by literature such as Black Beauty and The Black Stallion, and her rebellious side nourished by J.D. Salinger's Catcher In The Rye.
Meanwhile, Alice was inspired by a character in The Great Santini by Pat Conroy. Santini has a very cynical sister who is the inspiration for Alice, she says.
"Maybe a third of Alice's experiences have happened to me. Mostly I've experienced Alice's feelings, if not the specific incidents. I've felt like I wasn't going to survive hikes that turned out to be very short, as a teenager I went to parties where everyone was older and felt out of place, I've bought more than I intended to at Costco. You can see that events in the Alice books have been exaggerated for effect. Episodes from my own life could be used as a sleep aid," Juby says.
One of Juby's quieter past-times, which she did nevertheless include in her most recent Alice book, is knitting. It's a mysterious yet quaint hobby which is now trendy again.
Even gawky Alice tries her hand at knitting, mentored by the much-more-alternative and edgy Betty Lou, who owns the knitting store in Smithers. Betty Lou is a character meant for eccentric 16-year-old girls who lock themselves in their rooms writing poetry while listening to Joy Division.
But the Alice books are not just for the alternative crowd: All girls will get a hoot out of these books, which explore with great humour and insight common themes such as the earnest self-righteousness of the young idealist, coping tips for life as a social pariah, experiencing your first crush, establishing an artistic identity, and being raised in a Canadian Small Town.
These resonate with girls who just don't "fit in" -- and who are looking for a similarly alienated Mr. Right.
The theme of looking for love without losing yourself is the underpinning Alice MacLeod, Realist At Last, in which she describes a wide range of behaviours and personality traits of men as part of Alice's search for a compatible boyfriend.
Juby's male characters are highly developed, very complex and richly portrayed, which is somewhat unusual for a novel aimed at teen girls. In contrast, members of Alice's female entourage are more remote.
The reader wonders why Alice seems to have so many men in her life and not as many girls and women close to her. Is the focus of this novel Alice's grappling with how to deal with the opposite sex and not change herself for a guy?
"Bingo. That's exactly what the story is about," Juby says. "It's about the different types of relationships available to Alice and how she negotiates them while trying, as you point out, to remain true to herself. That's one of the hardest things any of us can do. Her mother and Betty Lou act as touchstones or models. But let's face it: Romance and relationships are tough for everyone. They can be disappointing, exciting, scary, confusing and fun all in the space of five minutes."
Alice's love life evolves, but her quirky personality traits remain.
The influence of Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole books, a favourite of Juby's, clearly shows in Alice's pretensions to grandeur ('zine writer, then newspaper publisher, and finally screenwriter). Alice has a great sense of the importance of her own contributions of earnings and domestic duties to her family, and utter lack of insight into how comical this is, since she really does no housework and barely works.
Juby says this ability to separate oneself from one's ambitions -- a quality Alice sorely lacks -- comes later in life. It takes time to realize there's actually a "dichotomy between who you want to be and who you are," she says.
The Alice novels are sure to be as energizing as bee pollen for girls and teens who feel alienated and don't "fit in" -- literature like this is potentially powerful enough to sustain them through those hellish high school years. For those girls, Juby has the following advice:
"Read a lot. Remember that high school is an artificial environment/house of horrors for most interesting people. There is always going to be a like-minded person somewhere, either in school or out who will help you deal with it. Of course, that's easy for me to say. I resorted to partying to deal with the agony. And to atone I write novels about people who find other ways to cope."
The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2006, The Toronto Sun
Sunday, July 09, 2006
Source: BY LAURA BOBAK, TORONTO SUN
Section: Showcase Page: S14
on March 8, 2005
I have heard it said that "Alice, I think" is a childish attempt at a book of a teenager's life. Some say it is unrealistic, and that the plot pieces included could never happen. Others declare that the humor was heavy handed and obvious. Still other people decide that Alice, the main charactor is stupid, childish and that her world is very, very wrongly portrayed. I disagree completely.
Having lived in a small town very much like Smithers, having visited there several times before and who's mother grew up in Terrace, a few hours away from Smithers, I can confidently say that, yes, this book shows exactly what Smithers is like. It's small, tight-knit, and, at times, just plain weird. Along with this, I can also affirm that the plot pieces, as they are told, may be slightly exaggerated, but actually do happen in rural British Columbia.
Also, since I am fifteen myself, and was homeschooled for a good portion of my life, I can say with confidence two things. First, Alice is realistic as a homeschooled teenager, acting like I have at times. I laugh at adults who read this book and say that it was an innacurate account of a teenager growing up. How would they know? I, a teenager myself, found it startlingly accurate. Second, this book is not making fun of or laughing at homeschooled children - it is laughing with them. Many people who have been homeschooled know that it does tend to leave one a little sheltered and shy, causing all sorts of humorous incidents.
I leave with these words - before making comments about any book at all, consider how you know them to be true. Sometimes, unless you have been in certain situations, you cannot accurately judge the authenticity of the author's account.
-Stephanie Van Dyk
British Columbia, Canada