Middle Grade Review: When Audrey Met Alice by Rebecca Behrens

“I am someone who wants to eat up the world.”

When Audrey Met Alice (2014) by Rebecca Behrens

Suggested age range: 10 and up (Sourcebooks, 304 pages)

Rating: 5/5 stars Source: e-ARC from Net Galley

Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary RealismWhen Audrey Met Alice final cover

The Book: “Nobody gets what I have to go through as a First Kid. Nobody. Well, except Alice.” Thirteen year old Audrey is a typical 21st century girl. She likes to watch movies, eat pizza, and has crushes on boys. She is also keen for a good adventure and making friends. However, Audrey is different than most girls her age in that she is the daughter of the President of the United States and lives in the White House. Restrictions of all sorts abound for Audrey, but when she discovers the diary of President Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice Roosevelt, she wants to follow Alice’s advice: “To Thine Own Self Be True.” What follows is a delightful story that shifts between Audrey’s ups and downs as a first daughter and Alice’s adventures and challenges as first daughter over 100 years earlier. Behrens masterfully illuminates how many of the girls’ experiences are similar though, despite the time gap. Readers will laugh and cringe at both Audrey and Alice’s adventures, which include crashing golf carts, hiding boys under beds, navigating multiple marriage proposals, and sneaking friends into the White House (in disguise!).

Spirituality in When Audrey Met Alice: Alice’s diary helps Audrey to feel a connectedness and kinship with a girl who isn’t a friend in her present, but nevertheless, affects her life through her writing. Spirituality as relational connection and connectedness to the past are two aspects that emerge in children’s literature. These aspects in Behrens’ book are not at all stuffy, but result in a deeper dimension to the story that I was drawn to when I first read its premise. When Audrey discovers Alice’s diary, she feels as if Alice is “present” through the diary. This shows how important it is to remember and appreciate those in the past, who might have something (in written form, an artistic work, etc.) that is significant for our present. The book also shows the value in standing up for what you believe in, but sometimes that can cause trouble (as we discover toward the ends of the novel!).

“Reading Alice’s diary did feel like talking to someone. It’ll be like having an imaginary older sister.”

“It was like Alice, across space and time, knew exactly the words I needed to hear.”

Exploring this Book with Readers: This book would be marvelous for both middle grade readers as well as young adult readers. I love the way Behrens delivers a narrative with two distinct voices; each voice highlights the frustrations and dreams of a young person living as the daughter of a president. In the classroom, students might consider writing a letter to one of the first daughters currently residing at 1600! Since this is a story also focusing on family, readers might discuss how their parents’ jobs do or do not affect their own lives and identities. Behrens includes a note at the end of the book about the real Alice Roosevelt and has resources on her blog that would add to the reading experience. You can also read my interview with the author, here.

The Final Word: There aren’t many books out there that illuminate the contemporary experience of being a first daughter in the White House. Nor are there many stories that interweave a contemporary first daughter’s experience with an early 20th century experience of living at 1600. What a gem of a book! I recommend that readers, including middle grade, young adult, and adult readers sit down to read about the antics and challenges of first daughters Audrey Rhodes and Alice Roosevelt.

I received an ARC from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review! Thank you, Sourcebooks!

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Top Ten Debuts Catherine is Excited for in 2014

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This weekly meme is hosted by The Broke and Bookish—check out their wonderful blog if you haven’t yet. These are my anticipated reads for 2014, by debut authors. My list includes Middle Grade novels as well as Young Adult titles. Click on the title to find out more on GoodReads.

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Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens

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All Four Stars by Tara Dairman

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Pointe by Brandy Colbert

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Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

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Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

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The Ninja Librarians by Jennifer Swann Downey

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What the Moon Said by Gayle Rosengren

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When Audrey Met Alice by Rebecca Behrens

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The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

I am excited about these 2014 releases–are there any on this list you are anticipating? Other debut authors you can’t wait to meet?