Study Guide

Patricia in Alligator Bayou

By Donna Jo Napoli


Pretty Woman

Patricia is Calogero's main squeeze (okay, for most of the book he just wishes she were), and we totally get why. After all, she is smart, witty, sly, pretty, and a great cook—this girl's the total package. She isn't all over Calo though, and she teases him by giving him kisses sometimes but withholding them at others. As Calo tells us:

I stare up at a spiderweb. Then I move a little closer to Patricia. "Don't go getting no ideas. Move away Calogero. Now. Scat." (21.65)

Calo and Patricia are hiding out in a cave here, waiting for the rain to stop. They've kissed before, and though there's a spider web in the mix, the scene is still pretty romantic. But Patricia isn't having it. She doesn't hold out for long, though, and later, when Calo is honest about having no clue about what would earn him a kiss, the patience and kindness he shows to her that earns him the kiss he's been hoping for.

We're not entirely sure why Patricia accepts and refuses kisses in different moments. Perhaps she's testing Calo to make sure he's sincere in his intentions, or perhaps she likes to stay in control of relationships—it seems possible that her wariness may stem from her lived experiences as a young Black woman living in an intensely racist community. Because Calo's our narrator and main character, though, we never get to know because she never comes out and tells him.

Funny Girl

In a book that deals with a whole lot of heavy stuff, Patricia is a much-needed funny character. She is sharp and witty, but unfortunately for Calo, it takes him a minute to follow her jokes. Check it out:

Flustered, I turn and walk off the path.

"Not that way," Patricia whispers loud. "That way the outhouse."


"It be moving all the time."


"In the wintertime too far away, in the summer too close."

It takes me a minute to catch her joke. I laugh. (14.54-60)

Get it? In the winter, when you're freezing, the outhouse feels a million miles away. But in the summer, when the heat settles in, well, let's just say you hope the breeze blows away from the house. Though it takes Calo a second to catch up, Patricia doesn't mind—she just likes that Calo is sweet and honest.

Sweet as a Songbird

One of the coolest things about Patricia though, is her ability to identify birds by their call or by sight, even at night. She knows all about the birds in her area, and is pretty much an expert. And while this is a pretty cool skill in its own right, what it represents—her fierce desire to learn—is perhaps the coolest. After all, she's a young Black girl living in the South in 1899, which means she is constantly sent messages by society that she is stupid and worthless—so that she sees herself otherwise, and that she chooses to focus on the beauty of the birds, is a testament to her sense of self and spirit.

Yup—we totally get why Calo loves her.

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