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Miss Smithers Paperback – May 11, 2004
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From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up–Alice MacLeod, 16, had been homeschooled since being pulled out of first grade for thinking she was a hobbit. Now she attends alternative school, and describes herself as "a total misfit," so she is understandably surprised when the Smithers Rod and Gun Club asks her to be their representative for the local beauty pageant. She keeps a diary of all of her school and pageant misadventures, including cantankerous descriptions of her hippie parents, friends, and fellow contestants. Alice's meanderings through a religious group, alcohol experimentation, and fruitless hopes for a first sexual encounter seem contrived for their shock value. Although she is certainly intelligent and insightful (with a very sharp cutting edge), she never seems to understand that she's her own worst enemy until the end. By that point, it's too little too late, and readers will have trouble caring if she gets it or not. She seems to veer from one ridiculous or dangerous situation to the next, and blames much of it on everybody else (sometimes correctly, but often not). Despite its wit and spearing of inane beauty contests, teens will have trouble finding this book's heart, or Alice's.–Paula J. LaRue, Van Wert City Schools, OH
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Gr. 7-12. This sequel to Alice, I Think [BKL Ag 03] finds our young Canadian protagonist participating in the town beauty pageant, much against the wishes of her hyperfeminist mother. As a representative of the pageant, Alice is allotted a $400 clothing allowance, the main motive for her participation. She details her hilarious experiences in both journal entries and a zine, which deliciously skewers every group possible, from aging would-be rock stars to vegetarians. Despite the novel's rural, small-town setting, urban teens will also delight in Alice's misadventures, as she combines sometimes alarming fits of self-confident, outrageous activity with more predictable teen angst and ineptitude. Be warned that Alice gets drunk, tries to lose her virginity, and engages in other risky behaviors and attitudes, with very little judgment levied by the author. Readers of Alice's previous adventure will be eagerly awaiting this new title, but the sequel easily stands alone and will send new readers back to the first book. Debbie Carton
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Alice is convinced to enter the town talent pageant because of the $400 clothing allowance, writes what was supposed to be an anonymous zine about the progress of the pageant, then finds herself getting beaten up and ostracized yet again because everybody knows all the snarky things she's said about them. Honestly, if you can enjoy the humor of seeing an unlikable but funny narrator much more clearly than she sees herself, and perhaps even being able to relate it to one's own occasional cluelessness with the vague beginnings of self-awareness, Alice's antics and muddles will keep you reading and laughing far into the night.
Unlike higher profile pageants, Miss Smithers has enough events that are varied and vague enough that every participant has a chance of being good at something. Surely that must also include a moderately well-adjusted teen who used to think she was a hobbit, right?
After one botched newsletter distribution and the purchase of questionable attire for a beauty pageant, Alice begins to question her initial (over)confidence at winning Miss Smithers. Of course, it's only then that Alice really starts to learn and grow from her brief experience as a beauty queen.
Like Alice, I Think before it, Miss Smithers has received some negative reviews from people who argue they can't connect with Alice. For my part, I can't understand why as I love Alice who seems to be the embodiment of the simultaneously apathetic and overeager teen found inside everyone.
Other negatives included a review that railed against the discussion of underage sex and drinking found in this book. There are two sides to that issue. As a teen I read a lot of books with characters who had sex and drank. Most of my friends and family will agree these readings had no detriment on my moral code. There are also a lot of books out there that are far more explicit about both topics.
In relation to this novel: yes Alice does get drunk, and yes she does consider sex quite a bit. But she also decides to take a chastity vow and spends a good amount of time contemplating what Jesus really would do. All in the same novel. Like most sixteen-year-old girls, Alice changes her mind a lot. As such, Juby creates a realistic albeit sarcastic protagonist with a well-rounded variety of experiences in this story.
Like the first novel in this trilogy, Miss Smithers does follow a diary format. The "standards" of that genre are adhered to a bit more loosely here with dated entries reading more like the usual prose. Not to worry though, this novel features a different kind of gimmick instead of the diary entries. Interspersed between chapters, Alice includes a handy newsletter (handtyped) detailing pageant events as well as a spreadsheet tallying each entrant's points and progress toward the win. These newsletters are also a great way to look at Alice's increasing maturity throughout the story as she begins to take more pride in the competition and becomes more familiar with each of the contestants.
Equal parts humor and sarcasm make this book a great read for anyone who would never usually pay attention to beauty pageants in books or otherwise.
As with the previous novel (Alice, I Think), this story is told in extremely funny diary entries. She is constantly mortified by her New Age-y mom and slacker dad, and often finds her super-smart little brother to be wiser than her grown-up guidance counselor. Her time as Miss Smithers introduces her to karate, tests her vegetarianism, gives her material for her self-published zine, and teaches her the value of a dollar. Okay, maybe not that, but she does ultimately appreciate her true talents, and that's what makes her shine.
There are enough events in the contest to assure that almost anyone can score well in one or two of them. Yet, it is not the contest that will be the most educational for Alice. The reactions and politics that enter her life as she comes under the spotlight are a revelation. She will get fashion advice from bikers, find herself in a fight with supposedly respectable young women, and shock her parents by converting to a Christian lifestyle and chastity. While there can be only one queen, Alice finds there can be several winners.
*** Miss Smithers is unusual. Its satirical look at life is told from a first person point of view. While some scenes are difficult to imagine, that does not detract from their realism. Alice is in her own version of wonderland, strange but possibly true. ***
Reviewed by Amanda Killgore.