Review of “Making Friends with Alice Dyson” by Poppy Nwosu

I’ve always been so impressed with the young adult books that come from Australian authors. Maybe Americans only see the best of them, but this adorable and touching story certainly meets the high standards set by others I have read.

Alice Dyson is a self-described nerd who doesn’t socialize much except with May, her best friend since childhood. As the story begins, however, Alice suddenly is who everybody is talking about after a video was posted of her dancing in the street with classmate Teddy Taualai. Teddy is the subject of many negative rumors in the harsh social climate of their high school: he is “dangerous”; he is “the school’s delinquent; a “waster”; the kind of boy who always sits at the back of the class.” Except, it isn’t really true. No one has ever given him a chance.

After Alice irrationally attacks Teddy over the viral video (how, after all, could he have taken it if he was in it?) they next become allies in ferreting out the real culprit, then somewhat reluctant friends, then something more than that.

If this sounds simple and predictable, it is anything but. For one thing, Alice is not like the other teens in her school, obsessed with popularity and inclined to be mean and underhanded to achieve it. She considers the approval of her peers to be a shallow, transient, even absurd desire. She is conscientious, loyal and thoughtful, and has a secret dream for her future that requires a great deal of perseverance and bravery, qualities Alice has in abundance. She doesn’t want to be noticed, and she doesn’t want any interruptions from a social life. But to realize her dream, she comes to understand that she must accommodate unexpected changes in her life, as well as the feelings of others, and adapt as best she can. When you love, whether it involves family, friends, or a partner, your life is no longer just your own, and your decisions need to take others into account. But rather than diminishing you, love gives you a new kind of strength and a deeper kind of happiness.

As for Teddy, he is not the “bad boy” so common to young adult novels who is appealing to the girls in spite of, or because of, his reputation. His first inclination is always to take care of the others in his life. His bad rep was unfairly bestowed upon him, and is something he has had to live with along with the hurt and loneliness that went with it.

As you plunge into their fictional world, you just want to embrace and protect both of them.

Evaluation: Alice and Teddy, each from families that make their lives challenging, are endearingly awkward, earnest, and beset by fears, but also full of hope and goodness. I loved the characters and the way their relationship evolved, and I loved the way the author did not push Alice or Teddy into stereotypical outcomes, but let them mature and structure their futures without compromising what was important to them. Highly recommended!

Rating: 4.5/5

Published in the U.S. by Walker Books US, a division of Candlewick Press, 2020

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