title: The Truth About Alice
author: Jennifer Mathieu
buy it: Amazon Goodreads B&N
rating: 3/5 [in the genre] or 5/10 [all books I’ve ever read].
recommended for: People who enjoyed The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher. Fans of contemporary fiction that deals with sexuality and bullying. Teenagers.
will i read this author again?: I think so.
will i continue the series?: N/A
My Ratings Explained
take home message
An important story about the power of rumor to devastate, and the ability of simple human connection to heal. A little shaky at the edges, but a fine contemporary debut.
the basicsThis is a short book, but this will not be a short review. I enjoyed this book. I want to say that out front because I do have a few criticisms to lob at it. But before I bring out the pruning shears, I want to congratulate Mathieu for making this book realistic. I can't give away too much without spoiling. Suffice to say, she doesn't give her characters a fairy tale ending. Just desserts are not necessarily received. Victims are not necessarily vindicated. Instead, we have hope through struggle and empowerment through friendship. Mathieu's characters also sound like teenagers. You can believe these people, selfish as they are. There comes a hitch. There's some sacrifice of style for sound; a little too much simplicity for me. It's also a little predictable. If you think it happened, it happened.
My biggest criticism, however, is a nudge. As you can imagine, not all the rumors about Alice are truth. But I wished some of them had been. Why can the girl be innocent only if she didn't do some sexual thing or another? Why is it shameful to have sex? Would the rumors and slurs be any less undeserved and cruel if Alice had actually done what they said? It's a missed opportunity to explore these important questions. However, it's also a very important picture of modern bullying and the stories we think we know. Other books have done it better, but Mathieu does it well, and shows promise for the future.
plot . 3/5Mathieu takes a clever look at the rumor mill by turning the reader into a voyeur. The story is set up as a retrospective, with four different characters recounting the events of the past year from their own views. From the start, you know that two big things happened: Alice slept with two guys at Elaine's party and Brandon died in a car crash, which was also her fault. You also know that Alice is the school outcast. The plot starts there and then time moves forward, so that by the time you get around to a character again, they've had new experiences and made new realizations.
And like I said, it's predictable. Each of the characters has a story and you can probably guess it from the beginning. It's all your standard small town drama. I felt a little disappointed that I could so easily know what to expect. I think other people won't be so bothered, but maybe I've just read too many similar stories. I also thought the action dragged a little slow at times. Probably because I hated a lot of the characters (as I think was intended), so I wasn't too invested in their ramblings. But the deliberately unsatisfying ending was a clever touch, and you do get a small slice of happiness and hope to tide you over. It's not the cleverest, but it's sweet. I just wondered at Alice's reactions, sometimes. Perhaps she's remarkably resilient, but given the level of abuse she endures, she's still pretty peppy at the end. I just expected more vulnerability.
concept . 5/5This is not a revenge story. That makes it more real to me than some other books about bullying. It's a clever set-up. You learn about Alice through everyone but Alice, which means you can fall sway to their prejudices and fall into their traps. You can also judge them for their own crimes, because you're the omniscient overlord. Watching the characters grow and learn is exciting, but watching them fail to learn is also important (if not infuriating). Everyone involved is a part of the system. Everyone justifies their cruelty. Except for perhaps our obligatory love interest, adorable geek Kurt. These failures of empathy are the most important part of the story. No matter what they know, what new information they get, they don't repent. Not all the way. Mathieu doesn't take the easy way out and I admire her for that.
characters . 3/5These are not likable people. In some ways they are, but they're also selfish, infuriating, and cruel. And they're constantly justifying themselves to you. It's a great literary technique, because not all characters should be likable. It just made me want to claw them more than a few times. I would have liked just a little more depth. They feel a bit type-y. There's Elaine, the queen bee, vindictive and shallow, with weight issues brought on by an over-dieting mom. There's Kelsie, former best friend and status-grabber with a nerdy past and insecurity issues. Then we have Josh, probably the blandest of them all. He's your token football player and best friend of the deceased Brandon, who is dead and thus not a POV but manages to be increasingly loathsome in a believable way. Josh himself has a complex relationship with Brandon that's underexplored. The most likable is obviously Kurt, loner and nerd with a huge vocabulary and a major crush on Alice. I think I found him the most real. He admits his own selfishness and cowardice. He's also a little bit adorable. Last of all is Alice, known secondhand until the final chapter. She's refreshingly ordinary. Sexually adventurous but not desperate, mostly okay with herself, affected but not angsty.
style . 3/5Mathieu has a good grasp of the teenage voice. Even in the difficult slangy bits, her characters talk like teenagers. I could imagine myself back in high school, rolling my eyes at the macho banter or having one of the same conversations with my own friends. It's a tough line between writing real and writing well, however. It's not bad at all. It's just pretty good. Nothing that really grabbed me, which is probably why I felt lukewarm about this book overall. I gravitate towards tight, unique prose. I just didn't feel captivated.
mechanics . 4/5The pacing becomes a little slow in the midst of teenage ramblings, but for the most part, Mathieu does a good job of juggling her perspectives while still keeping the action going. I never felt lost with respect to whom I was reading or where in the timeline I was.
Note: I purchased this copy. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.