Jennifer Mathieu packs a punch. Her debut novel opens with rumors of Alice Franklin, the girl they say slept with two guys at a party. The girl who caused Brandon Fitzsimmons to die in a car accident. She used to be cool. She used to be well-liked, so what happened? Setting us straight are four first-person narrators: Elaine, the popular girl; Kelsie, Alice’s former best friend; Josh, Brandon’s best friend and Kurt, the school outcast. Each of these characters have their own secrets and motivations. Their stories are unique, intriguing and with each one we learn a little more of the truth about Alice.
The character’s authenticity struck me. These kids sound like real teenagers. Teens are so often presented in television, books, and movies as articulate young adults. I had almost forgotten what real teenagers sounded like with their slang and they way they emphasize their words.
Man, teenagers are annoying.
They’re also bold, insecure, naïve, and extraordinary at times. I empathized with nearly every character. I didn’t always agree with them, but I felt for them. As I read, I realized that the characters had a surprising amount in common. Each of them were lonely and isolated—even the popular ones. Each of them sought to be understood and heard.
My only complaint is that I initially had trouble visualizing many of the male characters. Timmy, Mark, Brandon and Kyle are all very similar. However, Mathieu more than makes up for this with Kurt, who brings a unique voice to the narrative and with Josh, a character layered in ways that even he is not aware of. I loved these characters for their depth, their quirks and their physical and emotional flaws.
This book about bullying has a surprisingly positive message: everyone deserves to have someone be nice to them. We decide how we treat others and each of us is capable of cruelty or kindness. Particularly in high school, it is so much easier to simply go along with what everyone else is doing. To be kind is to be brave because it means putting ourselves out there, accepting that we may be rejected. For a bunch of kids that already feel completely alone, is there anything scarier?
The Truth About Alice is as honest and hard-hitting as Jay Asher’s bestselling novel 13 Reasons Why. It is also powerful and heartfelt. Thematically it reminded me of the 1980’s John Hughes classic The Breakfast Club. I would highly recommend this to teenage girls in particular. I think there is much to relate to here in terms of sex, peer pressure, and the complicated nature of popularity and female friendships. An insightful and moving read.
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