Monday, June 6, 2011

Book Review: Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington

Title: Alice Bliss
Author: Laura Harrington
Reading Level: Adult with YA Appeal (15 year old protagonist)
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books/Viking (Penguin)
ARC, 306 pages
Date Published: June 2, 2011
Description (Taken from Goodreads):
A profoundly moving, uplifting novel about those who are left at home during wartime and a teenage girl bravely facing the future. 
When Alice learns that he father is being deployed to Iraq, she's heartbroken. Matt Bliss is leaving just as his daughter blossoms into a full-blown teenager. She will learn to drive, shop for a dress for her first dance, and fall in love all while trying to be strong for her mother and take care of her younger sister. Alice wears her dad's shirt every day, even though the scent of him is fading and his phone calls are never long enough. Life continues without him, but nothing can prepare Alice for the day two uniformed officers arrive at their door with news.

Alice Bliss is a gorgeous, transforming novel about the support of a small town looking after its own in times of loss; the love between an absent father and his daughter; the complicated love between Alice and her mother, Angie; and first love between Alice and the boy next door. It's a universal story and yet it touches on something very personal: these characters' struggles amid uncertain times echo our own, lending Alice Bliss an immediacy and poignancy that are both relevant and real.
Alice Bliss is one of those sincere, slow-moving, but rewarding and well-written novels. It centers on the Bliss family – 15 year old Alice in particular – who are struggling with life after the family’s patriarch and Alice’s father, Matt, ships off to war. The novel is very much a character-driven story; its driving force being Alice and her actions, reactions, and emotions about her father’s deployment; with her mother Angie, her younger sister Ellie, Gram, Uncle Eddie, and best friend Henry all contributing to Alice’s life without Matt in it.

Alice comes off as very young in the beginning of the book, so much so that I didn’t realize she was a high school student. As her voice takes hold though, it’s evident. Her love and closeness to her father are also brought into striking focus. Alice adores her father and life without him is killing her. She is close to Matt, he understands her, he shows his love for her in ways that Angie never does. This brings out the age old quarrels in the mother/daughter relationship. Alice and Angie do not get along. They love each, but they don’t really like each other all that much. Matt’s absence only heightens the tension in their relationship.

Alice wavers between sadness and anger towards her father, missing him, but hating him for leaving her. She loses the person she was before he left, just as her mother does. The two of them don’t know who they are in the absence of the person that means so much to them. For Alice, this time is full of growth. She begins to realize that she’s not a little girl anymore. She’s strong, despite her tears, weak, in spite of her independence. It’s this push and pull that fully immerses the reader in her life.

The people surrounding Alice, Angie, and Ellie are all as much a part of the Bliss family as the soon declared, missing-in-action, Matt. Henry, Alice’s best friend, is there for her from the very beginning. He’s the rock she didn’t realize she needed. He’s also key in Alice becoming the young woman that she so clearly is. He pushes her, cares for her, loves her in ways she never imagined. Their relationship is full of tenderness and everything blossoming relationships should be. Gram, like Henry, is Alice’s rock; a buoy in the sea of broken pieces of her life. Then there’s Uncle Eddie. What Uncle Eddie lacks in tact, he makes up for in his clear devotion to his family, picking up where Matt left off and being there whenever Alice, Ellie, or Angie need him.

Laura Harrington skillfully captures the ups and downs of family and the good and bad in every relationship. Matt is overseas, fighting a war, missing in a war, and Angie can barely bring herself to cook dinner for her children. She’s shut down because she’s lonely and scared and has no idea how to raise a hormonal, attitudinal, and angry 15 year old, while still caring for a precocious 8 year old, a house, working her job, and paying the bills. She’s lost. This feeling resonates well throughout Alice Bliss, bringing the reader to a precipice of emotion.

Told in the passage of days, weeks, months, with letters to and from Matt interspersed throughout, Alice Bliss will grab ahold of the reader’s heart and squeeze until you can do nothing else but hold onto its characters and hope for the best. Each chapter, each day that passes, brings more sorrow and more uncertainty for the Bliss’ that are left behind, but the resounding message of hope, despite insurmountable odds, is felt in every turn of the page; in every imagined or remembered word from a father to a daughter, a husband to a wife.

Alice Bliss is a heartbreaking and moving portrayal of a family trapped in a war that’s both far from home and right at their front door. Laura Harrington has broken down the walls that separate those unaffected by war from those who live with it every day, by dropping every insecurity, every fear, every nightmare, and every hope in the laps of readers with Alice Bliss. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll yearn for closure that seems so out of reach, but you’ll appreciate how each downfall leads to an ultimately uplifting end.

Opening line: This is the first time Alice has been allowed to walk back to their campsite from the Kelp Shed alone. ~ pg. 1

Favorite lines/passages (I had many and couldn’t choose, so just picked the shortest one):
Alice takes a look at her mother standing on the steps of the post office squinting into the rain. She wants to say, I see it; I notice all the things we are not saying, all the moments we are silently agreeing to ignore. It’s like a shadow that follows them and falls between them; this other life full of other feelings, this yawning emptiness where her father belongs. ~ pg. 74
*This is the ARC version and lines, pages, cover art may differ from final copy
 *This review is my honest opinion and I received no monetary compensation from it.

Find Laura Harrington online:

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BrittLit said...

Great review, glad you liked it. This sounds like a real nice read. I may have to suggest it to some of my teens after reading it myself. Thanks for the review!

Nikki (Wicked Awesome Books) said...

BrittLit - It's labelled as an adult book, but I think many teens would enjoy it. I'm unaffected, on a personal level, by the current conflicts overseas, so reading Alice Bliss opened my eyes to life for those who have family members serving.

Lori said...

I really hadn't paid much attention to this, but I think I'm going to have to add it to my wishlist after this review!

Bere said...

Wow. Beautiful review, Nikki. I seriously need to get this one. And soon. It sounds like such a wonderful story and I definitely do not want to miss it. Thank you for bringing this one to my attention! =)

Nikki (Wicked Awesome Books) said...

Lori - I'm so happy you took notice of it because it is so good. Not just good, but emotional and well-written, and so realistic and hopeful by the end. I can't say nicer things about the book.

Bere - I was surprised by just how attached I became to Alice and her family. After reading it, I felt like a better person. Like I experienced something and became a part of something that I had never even realized existed. It sounds cheesy, but that's what the book did to me. I truly hope you get the chance to read it.

wherethewildbooksare said...

Thank you so much for this lovely review! We are so happy that you enjoyed Alice Bliss and are so active in our campaign! We have revamped our website so if you haven't already - check us out here!

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