If The Agony of Alice seemed a bit more heartwarming than I originally thought, then Alice in Rapture, Sort Of is the Alice I remember. This 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. It’s unreal to me how fraught with tension a simple kiss was for Alice McKinley, but then again, she was only going into 7th grade. Now, this seems so young for Alice to be dealing with this stuff, but when I read it in the 5th grade, 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, 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, I thought that sounded like the most adult behavior I could imagine. 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, AiRSO 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 (this was a trick I used in high school classes, although I didn’t remember where I’d heard it). 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. This, to ten year old me, sounded like heaven. Also, Alice’s dad buys her a 2 piece bathing suit that she says makes her feel like a new person, and 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, and as she shows up for her first day of 7th grade, all I can think is, “Good luck, girl.” 7th grade was probably the most miserable I’ve ever been in my life, which speaks not only to how generally good my life has been, but how 7th grade was an unparalleled time of hellacious despair for most people I know.
-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 Phyllis Reynolds Naylor used were 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 SOs 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 Giiiirls’ Niiiight!” 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, if there was a gun to my head and I had no choice. I’m not one of those people who’s like, “It was so much better when we were kids!” because I did not really enjoy being a kid and I like being in control of my life, but I think we need to have a Sleepover Movement. I’m serious about this. Let’s make it happen.
-Pamela’s swim suit, “a red and pink bikini and a little bra that had no straps.” How is this girl going into 7th grade? Seriously. 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 comes off. Naturally, she gets embarrassed and cries about it. Those boobs!
-When Alice finds all of the baby clothes her mom saved and the love letters her mom and dad sent each other, I’ll admit it, I teared up.
-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? Are pay toilets even a thing anymore? Alice brings a quarter with her in case there’s a pay toilet, but I have never in my life encountered such a thing. 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 and Patrick make a promise that on her 21st birthday, he’ll call her and make a date for New Year’s Eve:
“’What if you’re already married?’ I asked him.
‘What if you’re married?’ he said in answer.
‘At twenty-one?’ I croaked. ‘Patrick, I’ll barely even be grown!’”
Thank you, Alice.
Next up: Reluctantly Alice, a book I really don’t remember at all!