Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington

About the Book
Can you ever let go of those who leave?
Alice Bliss is fifteen. She's smart, funny, and clever. Not afraid to stand up for the things she believes in. She also idolises her father and, when he leaves home to fight a war she doesn't believe in, Alice is distraught. She and her mother negotiate his absence as best they can -- waiting impatiently for his letters, throwing themselves into school and work respectively, bickering intermittently and, in Alice's case, falling for the boy next door -- but then they're told that he's missing in action and have to face up to the fact that he may never return.
Telling a story of love and loss, of grief and growing up, of family and friendship, Alice Bliss is a powerful, poignant portrayal of a young girl facing up to the unthinkable. Both intimate and universal, it is, ultimately, a story of a daughter's love for her father.


Once it was discussed that this book would be a cross-over, more for YA actually, I decided to pick it up and give it a go. I am so glad that I did.  Terry was the first to mention that this book is more suitable for YA than adult and I have to agree.  And it certainly makes a very good change from the paranormal. I would recommend that anyone looking for an emotional read, though easy, and for any daughter who loves her father, this is a book for you.

Alice Bliss is the main character of the book. She is intelligent and emotional and exceptionally close to her father.  The reader is taken on Alice’s tumultuous journey as she deals with the absence of her father (Matt) and the way she harnesses her pent up depression and anger over her father’s leaving to go to the army.  As the reader, I empathised with Alice’s pain and the “mother” role she had to play with her younger sister, Ellie, as her mom battled to emotionally cope with the day to day runnings of a household when Matt left.  I loved Ellie, an eight-year old with a determined love of words and flair for the original. Another colourful character is Alice’s grandmother, affectionately known as ‘gram’.

The relationship between Alice and her mother (Angie) is -as one is when a hormonal teenager is involved -a volatile one.  They are both battling deeply with their loss and, at times, they both take it out on each other.  Most of the time, although it is never admitted, it is jealousy.  When Matt does manage to call home, Angie is allowed the most time on the phone and it is mostly behind closed doors.  On Angie’s side, Alice and Matt have always shared a special connection that Angie has never quite understood or been a part of. This meant quite an interesting theme for the book, the daughter and father relationship vs daughter and mother.  Included in this, is the question ‘who was the guardian, the person who took care of everything when everyone else was falling apart? Who was the ‘mother’?

An important point that this book highlights is that when your world is falling apart, that everything has been turned upside down, life still carries on.  As it does with Alice, as she still handles the teenage life of school, little sister pestering and boys (highlighted by Alice’s new-found feelings for her childhood friend, Henry). 

For the first couple of chapters, I thought that perhaps this was an adult book after all.  But the further one reads, the more apparent it is that this is a YA book, and a beautiful one at that.  Not to say that adults will not enjoy this book. No matter our age, we all understand family relationships and have suffered loss before. The writing is simple (apart from Ellie’s new-found obsession with 20-letter words) but manages to capture the feelings of all the characters.  The voices are strong and real.  I felt that, if met on the street, these people could actually exist.

What I loved about the book:

Books are quite different to television. They do not have the slow motion visuals and violins to persuade the tear ducts.  It is much harder to get a reader to cry.  But Alice Bliss makes the reader reach for the tissue box. Not in a chocolate-and-sob way but more as the tears drop down silently, as you more deeply recede into The Bliss’ loss.

There are two particularly favourite passages of mine. The first is when, learning about Matt’s MIA, Alice decides to go into his work shed and finds ‘a gift’ from her father:

She steps off the ladder and sets the box on the workbench in the watery light coming through the rain slick windows.  What has he left for her? Sand dollars? Shells? Seed packets? She lifts off the top and looks inside:

Dear Alice,
I wrote you a few lettersThey’re not really for right now.  They’re for just in case I have to miss anything important. 
I love you Sweetheart.   Never forget it.

Inside, there’s a stack of envelopes, each with his precise writing, each with a date or an event: Graduation from high school, from college, the first time she gets her heart broken, her wedding day, the birth of her first child, the death of her mother.

There’s a series of letter with the heading “the little moments that make up the big moments, that might get forgotten.”  The subheadings in the group are: “the moment you don’t realize you want this boy to kiss you,” “the moment you realize you don’t love this boy anymore.” “the moment you realize you’re going to leave home and never really live there again” “the moment you realise that you’re more like your mother than you want to be”.

The second passage, SPOILER ALERT, is after Alice learns that her father has passed away.  I won’t put down the entire passage.  Henry and Alice decide that they will still go to the high school dance but she cannot bring herself to go inside. So they go to the field where they can still hear the music, stand under a tree and dance. And then they leave. Short and poignant.

Well-worth the read for females of any age, but most suited for teenage girls (from about 14/15).

Follow Laura Harrington on Twitter

Review by Tarryn Talbot


Anna said...

This sounds lovely. Thanks for sharing I hadn't heard of it! I'm a new follower. Please check out my pick!

iPhone Repair said...

If you manage to make it through the book without tears you can still feel all the fear, loneliness, and losses of the Bliss Family. You can also feel the love and the hope they have for each other.

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