Monday, October 24, 2011

Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington 320 pgs

Alice Bliss is a fifteen year old girl whose entire world is changing. Alice is very close to he father, Matt, and has just discovered he’s going to be shipping out to Iraq, much to the dismay of his wife and children. As Matt tries valiantly to prepare his family for the difficulties ahead, Alice vacillates between feeling confused, angry and proud of her father in various measure. Most of Alice’s frustrations seem to be directed at her mother, whom she feels a great amount of resentment towards. When Matt finally ships out, it’s all Alice can do to hold the small family together as her mother slowly falls apart. With the help of her best friend Henry and a small group of family and friends, Alice and her sister, Ellie, must learn to reorder their days and their priorities as Matt’s absence stretches on. Soon they must rely on the strength and kindness of the community around them not only for support during the difficult days ahead, but most importantly when they receive unexpected news from the front. In this emotionally resonant and powerful coming of age story, the difficult tale of one family being shepherded and held together by an unusually headstrong and resilient young girl is shared in all its glory and heartbreak.

When I first read about this book over on Dawn’s website, I was immediately intrigued. Normally, I really love a well constructed coming of age tale, but the fact that this book was so timely and topical made me even more eager to explore it. When I was contacted to review the book, I learned of the Where’s Alice Bliss? project, which is an attempt to get the book into the hands of as many people as possible with the help of bookcrossing.org. After having read and thoroughly enjoyed my copy of Alice Bliss, I am now in the process of registering my book and releasing it into the wild for another reader to enjoy and pass along.

This was an extremely powerful book, and through the use of flashbacks, direct and powerful writing, and a strong emotional core story, the story of Alice and her family is shared in a way that was not only affecting, but ultimately sobering and full of intensity. Alice was a lovely character who was not only recognizably a teenager in her attitude and angst, but who was also remarkably well rounded and loyal to the father whom she so loved. As Alice repeatedly reflects on the lessons that her father has taught her, she goes to great lengths to accomplish the tasks that would normally be his to complete. The sections that detailed Alice’s impatience to create the winter garden in just the way her father had taught her were filled with the inexpressible reverence that Alice has for her father. By trying to emulate his work ethic and tasks, Alice was paying her father the utmost honor and compliment in a time when she was brokenhearted over his absence.

Alice’s relationship with her mother was much more complex. I think to some degree every teenage girl has issues with her mother at times, but in this story, Harrington allows her readers to see that Alice’s grievances towards her mother were at least in some measure deserved. It was interesting to read this book and realize that I sympathized with the young female teenage protagonist rather than the parental figure, and can only conclude that Harrington did such a marvelous job in creating Alice in such a realistic vein that I felt her anger and confusion as my own. I can’t say I really liked Alice’s mother all that much, as I felt she could be too self-focused and selfish at times. I cannot presume to understand what life might be like for a woman whose husband is serving overseas, but to me, Alice’s mother came off as somewhat devoid of empathy for her two daughters who were obviously struggling.

The extended cast of characters were very well executed as well, and I found that Harrington created a full compliment of realistic and human characters with whom to surround her starring family. I particularly liked Alice’s uncle Eddie and the way he took the family under his wing as a male caregiver when Matt’s absence began to be truly felt. It was also surprising that Harrington decided not to shy away from a very emotional and heartrending plot line when push came to shove. This wasn’t an easy story to read at times, and there were moments when I was reduced to tears in contemplating the lives of the Bliss family.

While this was a more serious book that I had initially expected, I think it’s definitely an important and relevant read for today’s time. While there was a tremendous amount of emotional growth in the titular character of Alice, the book also examined the way war can change the landscape of a family and a community. A highly intelligent and emotionally moving read, and one that I would highly recommend.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

22 comments:

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I like this one as well, but my reaction was similar in that I just didn't expect it to be so serious.

Nymeth said...

I love what you say about her complex relationship with her mother. That alone makes me want to pick it up.

bermudaonion said...

Wow, this sounds fabulous! I do think teenage children tend to clash with the parent of the same sex, but it sounds like there were real issues between Alice and her mother. Alice sounds like a character I would love.

Jenny said...

Sounds like a great coming of age story! I'm thinking I would really like this!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I too am impressed that you sympathized against the parental figure. But this sounds depressing...

Anita said...

I've been on the fence with this book, not really sure I want to read the subject matter. I've had my own battles with my daughters, some so heartbreaking.
As always you write a beautiful review.

reviewsbylola said...

There's something that has been putting me off of this one. It just doesn't call out to me!

Ti said...

I really am a cover snob. I won't deny it. I saw this cover when it first came out and felt that it screamed chick-lit so I never even gave it a second thought.

After reading your review, I see that I am 100% wrong to think that. You did a marvelous job conveying the complexities without given them totally away.

Aarti said...

Oh, I love that you said you identified with the teenager's feelings against her mother. But then, you are so good at putting yourself in other people's shoes that it doesn't surprise me. Was it more difficult for you to read, as a mother of a teenager? Did it give you any new perspective on your relationship with your daughter?

TheBookGirl said...

I'm impressed that the author was able to give depth across the board of a large cast of characters. I was unaware of the book crossing site. I'm off to check that out :)

Sandy Nawrot said...

I would agree that the cover and the title would indicate something other than what lies between the pages. But it does sound incredible. If you like this, you would probably love "You Know When the Men Are Gone", a group of interconnected short stories about women surviving while their husbands are overseas.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

Beautiful review. I like the idea of passing the book on into the world. Very cool. I know this has been widely, positively received but

Vasilly said...

Wow! What an incredible review, H! I love reading books that deal with mother-daughter relationships, so I'm adding this to my tbr list.

Suko said...

Excellent review, Zibilee. This book seems to be largely about relationships within the context of growing up. Have fun with the "book crossing" element.

Amy said...

What a fantastic review! You highlighted so many of the issues in this book that make it such a worthwhile one to read. I totally agree with you about Alice and her mother. I had problems with her mother...she didn't do much mothering even when it was obvious her daughters needed it.

Aths said...

Amazing review! I have seen this book around but not really read many reviews. I can see that this book is really powerful and I love how the depth that this book professes.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

It's this type of underground effort that really gets the word out, similar to the Beth Kephart movement. Alice sounds like quite the gal! Will make a note to check this one out, thanks for your stunning review, as always, Heather!

Harvee said...

It's good to see that there are book dealing with the problem of families struggling because of the absence of a loved one. I enjoyed your comments. Harvee/Book dilettante

Stacy at A Novel Source said...

As always I loved your review. I am immediately going to check out the website Where Is Alice Bliss? How interesting it is that you empathized and related more with Alice rather than her mother. Did your daughter read the book too? Did she like it? Thank you for turning me on to what sounds like an amazing and needed story line!

wheresalicebliss said...

Thank you so much for your beautiful review of "Alice Bliss"! We have officially revamped our website and would love if you checked us out!

We are so excited to see this campaign on a roll!

Darlene said...

This is one book I'd like to have a chance to read at some point. I'm glad to see that you would recommend it.

Melissa said...

I just got in line at the library for this one!

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