Writing convincingly in a young person's voice poses a huge challenge even to an experienced author like Lynne Reid Banks (The Indian in the Cupboard and others)--probably second only to writing in authentic-sounding dialect. Banks manages to do both brilliantly in the public and private notes of almost-10-year-old Alice Elizabeth Williamson-Stone, a sensitive, quirky British girl being raised by her struggling single mom. Alice dutifully reports her name in the first line of the book as part of an autobiography in her School Notebook, which continues throughout. But we soon learn that much of the turmoil in her world revolves around that name's origins. In her private Special Notebook, Alice later describes meeting her grandmother Gene at the age of three: "She rang Mum (in Brighton this was) and they had a row straight off because Williamson-Stone is on my birth certificate.... Gene said I had no right to that name because Mum wasn't married to my dad and she said Mum'd stolen it. Of course that's stupid, you can't steal a name... she could've called me Alice Pokémon or Alice Peanut Butter Sandwich." Alice's strong accent and idiosyncratic language can be a bit off-putting until you get to know her, but patience pays off, and the contrast makes her recounting of The Simpsons and Oprah Winfreythat much better.
Pulled between loving but strong-willed parental figures with their own complicated histories (and she hasn't even met her dad yet), Alice must find her way despite a rocky home life, an unexpected and emotional move, and the usual demands of a difficult age. But she shines through it all as a stalwart, likable, and--most importantly for middle-school readers--believable heroine. (Ages 9 and 12) --Paul Hughes [via]