Rebecca Behrens hooks most young readers on the first page of When Audrey Met Alice. Few would turn away from the opportunity to get a glimpse of life inside the White House. Using the fictional character, Audrey Rose, readers see the pluses and minuses of being the President’s child in the twenty-first century.
Being the First Daughter may appear glamorous. However, life in the White House is far from normal. Complex procedures sabotage the ease of having friends visit after school. The restrictions are compounded when the fictionalized First Daughter, Audrey, misbehaves.
Middle and Young Adult readers will be able to relate to Audrey’s desire for autonomy and her displeasure for always being in the public’s eye. In the first few pages, Audrey sets forth her first lesson for being America’s First Kid. “Someone is always talking about you or your mom.” (Page 13)
Throughout the book, Audrey tests the boundaries between parental authority/security concerns and being an average kid who likes to buck rules. Most of her attempts to widen her perimeter are defeated as she struggles to find a way to take charge of her life. Loneliness is her fallback position.
Fortunately for Audrey’s sake as well as the pace of the story, Rebecca skillfully adds an additional layer to the story. Audrey fortuitously finds a hidden diary that supposedly was written by Alice Roosevelt, a former First Kid. Through Alice’s words, readers get a glimpse of what life was like in the beginning of the twentieth century. Rebecca does an excellent job of showing the similarities and differences of the two eras.
Rebecca adeptly weaves together fact and fiction to create a charming diary that helps Audrey see her challenges in a new light. In one of the early entries, Alice writes- “I should have expected the volume of rules surrounding me would only grow once we took up residence in the White House. I can’t stand for them, though. I am positively allergic to discipline. I think I have mentioned that my aim is to eat up the world.” (Page 46)
Audrey periodically shares entries to the diary. Sometimes Alice’s words affect Audrey’s thoughts and behavior as she tries to sort through the trials and tribulations of living in the White House. Even though the reading of the diary is a one-way relationship, it is therapeutic for Audrey to connect with a former First Kid who experienced some of the same limitations. She emulates many of Alice’s antics and looks to her for consolation.
These diary segments reveal important elements of Alice’s life. Occasionally, these portions are longer than necessary. This could cause some readers to start skimming through the diary parts.
The unique relationship that develops between Audrey and the diary is highlighted in the following passage: “Maybe I need to live more like Alice. I took a paint pen and wrote “WWAD’ on an old bangle bracelet—What Would Alice Do?—to remind me to stop waiting to feel better, and fill what was empty. If ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’ was Alice’s motto, WWAD would be mine.”(Page 143)
Audrey’s interaction with her family, White House staffers, and friends illustrate her spirited and self-centered personality and the maturation process that is an essential part of adolescence. While Audrey’s mischievous actions are considered age-appropriate, more conservative minded parents and teachers may frown upon the references to her poor judgment. Less mature primary school readers and children coming from conservative households may not be comfortable with the references to same-sex marriages. However, the majority of readers will applaud Rebecca’s desire to highlight life in the 21st century.
This entertaining middle level novel introduces memorable female characters that magically draw interest to an earlier point in time. Most educators would agree that students need to be exposed more to history.When Audrey Met Alice is a welcomed addition to bookshelves in homes, libraries, and school classrooms.