Mr. Fluke turned to me. "Mary Alice, is it? Down from Chicago?" Everybody in this town knew everything about you. They knew things that hadn't even happened yet. (1.41)
Mary Alice feels like a fish out of water, but apparently everyone in this tiny town already knows her business. It's a bit unnerving to find out that she's been the topic of conversation when she doesn't know these people at all.
"I'll make ya welcome," Mildred rasped. She made a big fist and showed it to me, under the desk. "Rich Chicago girl."
I sighed. "If I was rich, I wouldn't be here." (1.67-68)
Mary Alice certainly does not get a warm welcome when she starts school in Grandma Dowdel's small town—especially from Mildred Burdick, who seems to hate her right away.
Anybody who thinks small towns are friendlier than big cities lives in a big city. Except for Ina-Rae Gage, they were all giving me a wide berth. The leader of the girls was clearly Carleen Lovejoy, the grain dealer's daughter. She was about as stuck-up as could be...I was still spending my school days on the sidelines. (2.39)
None of the girls at school—except for Ina-Rae Gage—take to Mary Alice. In fact, she finds herself feeling quite lonesome as they all keep away from her and refuse to accept her into their inner circles. Is this typical? How have you seen new students get treated? Have you ever been a new student?
In Chicago, it never really got dark, not like this…
What I'd have done without my radio, I didn't know. Grandma, who could hear all over the house, didn't like extra noise, so I played the Philco at night in bed, muffled in the covers. (3.2-3)
It's not just the people that Mary Alice feels strange around. The surroundings are also unfamiliar; she's used the hustle and bustle of city life—and the light pollution. Now she has to rely on her radio to bring her the sounds of the city.
The school was rocked by the news that I was to play Baby Jesus' Mother. I was surprised myself. Someone was heard to remark, "What was Miss Butler dreaming of? A Chicago girl playing the Virgin Mary. The idea!" It was Carleen. (4.9)
For some reason, Carleen Lovejoy seems to think that a "Chicago girl" couldn't possibly be the Mother Mary in the nativity play. She's absolutely scandalized by Miss Butler's choice—after all, Mary Alice isn't one of them. And certainly no one from Chicago could have sound enough morals to play the Virgin Mary, right?
I was lucky to have Ina-Rae though. Carleen Lovejoy was still looking straight through me, and she set the tone for the rest of the girls. I hadn't made a lot of headway in all these weeks. (4.3)
Mary Alice knows that beggars can't be choosers. Even if Ina-Rae is the only person at school who's nice to her, she still considers herself lucky. After all, she could have no one at all.
Before that week was out it began to dawn on me that nobody would hold a little excitement against you in a town as quiet as this one. And just as they'd begun to take him for granted, Arnold Green sparked new interest. There was some talk about running him out of town. Various church groups called meetings. (6.131)
Once folks hear about how Arnold Green is an artist who draws women in the nude, they're properly scandalized and are calling meetings to run him out of town. Grandma certainly doesn't care though; she'll continue to give him a roof over his head. Hey, she'll even help him find love.
"She just said I'd have to go door-to-door to see if anybody'd rent me a room." The stranger still stared. Grandma was such an awesome sight that he could hardly keep his thoughts in order. "And you're the last house in town. Don't you people have a house around here?" (6.29)
It's a good thing for Arnold Green that Grandma Dowdel isn't easily scared by strangers. In fact, she readily provides him with a room…as long as he's willing to pay her exorbitant rent prices.
And I didn't mind too much about Royce. He was friendly enough, but either he was keeping his distance, or I was keeping mine. We'd both been strangers in their midst here, but was that enough? I guessed not and didn't mind too much. Really, not at all, hardly. (6.162)
Mary Alice finds that she and Royce don't get much closer for the rest of the school year, despite the fact that they have their outsider status in common. But she's okay with that—she doesn't want to force his hand and make him enter a relationship with her.
"I'm a stranger here myself," Royce said. "I'm from Mattoon. You're from Chicago. We're a couple of foreigners here."
Royce McNabb was finding these we had in common, without even being prompted. (6.91-92)
It seems like Mary Alice and Royce have nothing to talk about at first, but then they realize that they are both strangers to this small town. That's one thing that they have in common, and it binds them together.