Alice, I Think, by Susan Juby

Teen literature is full of dorky main characters. Meg Cabot’s entire career is based on stories about low-on-the-social-totem-pole heroines falling in love with hot-yet-geeky Stargate fans. Louise Rennison’s painfully silly Georgia Nicholson books are bestsellers. Even poor Harry Potter seems to spend half his time being ostracized by his schoolmates. But most of these characters are only embarrassing part-time—they spend the rest of their lives being princesses or social butterflies or saving the world. And, even at their absolute lowest point, none of them come anywhere close to being as dorky as Alice MacLeod.

Alice Macleod is the heroine of Susan Juby’s Alice, I Think books. At one point in the series someone describes her as having a "freakish ability to see things the wrong way, coupled with a shocking poverty of real-life experience". That’s a fair—maybe even generous—assessment. At the beginning of the first book, Alice is getting ready to enter the local high school after ten years of home-schooling. In preparation for her return to public school, Alice’s therapist encourages her to try out a new look (Alice decides to model herself after her wild, possibly insane cousin, who periodically visits the MacLeods between rehab stints), and make a list of life goals (Alice’s list includes things like "Increase contact with people outside of immediate family" and "Publish paper comparing teenagers and chicken peer groups").

Alice, I Think has recently been made into a 13-episode long, half-hour comedy series, shown on Canada’s CTV and The Comedy Network. I do not live in Canada, so I am indebted to Susan Juby and Jim Quan at CTV for sending me a press kit and a copy of the pilot episode.

All things considered, the show is pretty damn good. The casting is excellent, the script was well written, and whoever designed the set should win an award (although the house looked a lot cleaner than I would imagine the MacLeod family manse to be). It will take some time for the viewers to settle into Alice’s world, but that’s to be expected. The biggest problem with the transition to TV was the loss of Alice’s narration, which provides much of the books’ humor. The show’s producers tried to address this by giving Alice a therapist-prescribed "video diary", but audiences still lose the glory of passages like these, where Alice describes her experience at the Home-Based Learners’ Picnic:

"My parents looked around and realized that the home-schooled kids weren’t exactly what my dad called "paragons of normalcy". A disturbing number of them were still breast-feeding at an age when most kids were taking up smoking. One boy wore antlers all afternoon. His sister’s eyes rolled around in her head when she sang the Appalachian folk songs her mother insisted she perform for us in preparation for her big debut on the summer folk-music festival circuit. These kids were called Fleet and Arrow, so they never really had a chance. Fleet’s parents didn’t tell her that her lotto-machine eye action looked weird because they didn’t want to damage her self-esteem.

I thought it was sort of my duty to give Fleet some honest feedback, so I told her that when she sang, she looked a bit like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, which I’d seen at my cousin’s house. That led to Fleet’s mother having to explain to her about the existence of Catholicism, which made her mother so angry that she told my parents that I would not be welcome at their yurt for the May Day Festival."

Possibly attempting to make up for the loss of Alice’s constant narration, the producers decided to up the weirdness in other areas. The first episode features a silly, low-budget dream sequence. It was okay, but not as funny as the parts that stuck closer to Juby’s vision, like the scene featuring Alice and her dad watching TV—they don’t have a remote, and they’re both too lazy to get up, so they just yell for Alice’s little brother whenever they want to change the channel. It was a great throwaway joke, perfectly in keeping with Juby’s characters.

Alice’s closest literary counterpart (apart from some of the background characters in Cold Comfort Farm) is Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole. Alice might live in a 21st century Canadian logging town/hippie holdout, while Adrian lives in early 1980s England, but they have similar souls... not to mention similar issues with self-obsession, social ineptitude, and hardcore dorkiness. Adrien Mole has enjoyed a long and successful career (Townsend’s most recent book about him came out in 2004), but Susan Juby tells me that she’s done writing Alice books for a while, so I hope the television show becomes hugely successful, airs in the US, and runs for a decade. The teen lit market is glutted with part-time dorks—we need Alices and Adrians to remind us of how entertaining truly clueless, charmless, self-obsessed teenagers can be.
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


14 Aug, 2006 03:21 PM @ version 0

Haven't seen the TV show, but seriously, these books are GENIUS. Totally bent, totally hilarious. You didn't mention my favorite of Alice's life goals, rule number four: "Some sort of boy-girl interaction? Possibly best left until after high school. Maybe best left until middle age." Juby's, um, love interests for Alice are brilliant.

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