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Alice MacLeod, Realist at Last: A Review

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Alice MacLeod, Realist at Last (2005) is the stunning conclusion to Susan Juby's debut trilogy (preceeded by Alice, I Think and its sequel Miss Smithers). You might recognize Juby's name from the 2009 Edgar Awards where Getting the Girl was a nominee.

This installment opens with the first scene from Alice's screenplay "Of Moose and Men"--a creative work loosely based on her own life. Excerpts of the screenplay are sprinkled throughout the novel. The writing is overwrought, exaggerated, and provides hysterical insight into Alice's psyche throughout the story. In addition to being Alice's latest career of choice, writing her screenplay also helps this sixteen-year-old heroine make sense of the chaos that has become her life.

At the beginning of the story, Alice's boyfriend Goose is moving with his family to Glasgow for an entire year only to go away to university on the other end of Canada when he finally returns. Dealing with this heartbreak is bad enough on its own. Then Alice's mother, a somewhat aggressive environmentalist, is thrown in jail as a result of her activist activities. That leaves Alice, her younger brother, and her father on their own. To say that this development leaves the family less than functional would be a vast understatement.

The one constant in Alice's life seems, ironically, to be Death Lord Bob--her ineffectual therapist from the Teens in Transition (Not Trouble) Center in town. At least until he too is called away leaving Alice with the surly Ms. Deitrich who doesn't seem to understand anything about Alice's life let alone her highly evolved sense of style.

With their matriarch breadwinner in jail Alice and her father find themselves, for the first time, looking for gainful employment. Alice's job search, and eventual employment, throw her into the paths of two brilliant characters: Wallace and Vince. Negotiating these new romantic waters, Alice finds herself caught between two equally charming suitors--one five years her senior, the other considerably her junior. The dilemma is equally difficult for readers who will likely be as attracted to these guys as Alice herself.

Throughout the series, readers are able to trace Alice's evolution as a character. The girl we meet in this novel is very different from the Alice entering a traditional school (or a beauty pageant) for the first time. She is more mature, and in some ways more responsible and engaged with the world at large. More than that, though, Alice's true depth as a heroine is really apparent in this story as she not only works through but even rises above all of the (screw)balls life throws at her.

Alice MacLeod, Realist at Last doesn't qualify as truly "realistic" fiction because of the humor and general madness that surrounds Alice. But Alice is still an utterly real and engaging character with a quirky sense of humor (and style) that will leave readers smiling.

(I'd recommend reading the entire trilogy in sequence to fully appreciate how awesome it is, but the stories do stand alone fairly well if you happen upon them out of order.)

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