Constance C. Greene’s A Girl Called Al is the story of two seventh-graders who become neighbors in a city apartment building. The authoritative and worldly Al, pigtailed and plump, is a sophisticated nonconformist who fascinates the more conventional narrator, and their growing friendship is the basis for the book’s action.
At Al’s request, Mr. Keogh, the girls’ homeroom teacher, approaches the school principal in an attempt to obtain permission for Al to take a shop class in the place of cooking and sewing courses, but this appeal is denied. As a result, the narrator introduces Al to her special friend, Mr. Richards, the building’s assistant superintendent; Mr. Richards, a retired bartender, constantly chews a toothpick and skates on his kitchen linoleum with rags affixed to his shoes as a cleaning technique. When Mr. Richards is made aware of the fact that Al’s parents are divorced and Al’s father is largely absent, he offers to help Al and the narrator construct bookshelves similar to those that the boys are making in shop class. The reader learns later in the novel that Mr. Richards’ empathy for the lonely Al may be the result of a long-standing separation from his own family; Mr. Richards’ wife left him early in their marriage, and the old man has contact with neither his daughter nor his grandchildren.
One evening, Al’s sophisticated single mother goes out for one of her frequent dinner dates. Al is invited for supper at the narrator’s apartment. Also present are the narrator’s practical mother, her comedian father, and her typically irritating nine-year-old brother, Teddy. Al makes a favorable impression on the family, and the narrator, walking her friend home to an empty apartment...
(The entire section is 714 words.)