cover image Alice in April

Alice in April

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Atheneum Books, $16 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-689-31805-4

Naylor plunges her forthright and unusually winning series heroine ( All but Alice ) into the middle of seventh grade, when the responsibilities that go with turning 13 loom just ahead. As Alice struggles to assume the role of Woman of the House in the motherless home she shares with her older brother and father, the trials of domesticity compete with the anxiety of waiting for the boys in her grade to name her figure after the topography of one of the 50 states (``I knew what would be worse than Delaware: Rhode Island. Not the shape, the size''). With characteristic humor and the support of her old friends, Alice forges ahead, monitoring the romantic mishaps of her father and brother while coping with her own minor disasters. A subplot involves an abused classmate, whose suicide ends the book on a tragic note. The issue is carefully explored, without melodrama, and although it may surprise readers accustomed to jocularity from the Alice books, it is to the author's credit that Alice's development includes some serious problems. Deftly written dialogue and an empathetic tone neatly balance substantial themes with plain good fun. Ages 9-13. (Apr.)