NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

April 18, 2008

A story of tweens finding their identity in 'From Alice to Zen'

WEST NEWBURY — Alice Bunt and Zenithal Stevie Wonder Malinowski are two completely different people. The one thing that links the two is a common goal: to survive their first year of middle school.

Alice, 11, loves baseball and playing soccer, while Zen, 12, enjoys reading fashion magazines and filling out quizzes. The oddball couple comes together after Alice moves from Boston to the suburbs and she meets zany Zen, who lives around the corner.

Alice and Zen aren't real — they are from a book titled "From Alice to Zen and Everyone in Between," written by Elizabeth Atkinson, who lives on Pleasant Street with her husband, Erik Eames, and their two children, Madeline and Nate.

Her book, released on Feb. 1, has been nominated for the New Voices Award 2008 by the Association of Booksellers for Children, an honor she called gratifying.

"It was great and very gratifying because I knew then that the book wouldn't bomb," she said. "At least I thought it can't be terrible. It's reassuring."

Atkinson, 46, said the idea for the book came from being inspired by two kids she saw walking down a road one day.

"They looked like exact opposites," she said. "I was struck at how they seemed to be best buddies. I thought to myself how did those two kids become best friends, so I wanted to write about a friendship like that."

Atkinson said the theme of the story surrounds identity and finding confidence to be your own person. She wants kids to march to the beat of their own drummer, something Alice and Zen literally do in the novel.

"I think middle school is a pivotal time when kids begin to blossom with their own opinions and interests," she said. "Unfortunately, middle school also brings the toughest social pressures to conform that you will ever face in your life. So I want to hopefully empower kids to feel OK with themselves, and really it's about learning to march to the beat of your own drummer."

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