July 1, 2014

Review: The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

Title: The Truth About Alice
Author: Jennifer Mathieu
Release Date: June 3rd, 2014
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Page Count: 208
Source: ARC from Macmillan
(I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest
review. No favors were exchanged, my opinions are my own.)

First Reaction: Woah. 
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Everyone has a lot to say about Alice Franklin, and it’s stopped mattering whether it’s true. The rumors started at a party when Alice supposedly had sex with two guys in one night. When school starts everyone almost forgets about Alice until one of those guys, super-popular Brandon, dies in a car wreck that was allegedly all Alice’s fault. Now the only friend she has is a boy who may be the only other person who knows the truth, but is too afraid to admit it. Told from the perspectives of popular girl Elaine, football star Josh, former outcast Kelsie, and shy genius Kurt, we see how everyone has a motive to bring – and keep – Alice down.

[Summary Source: Goodreads]


When I first read the summary for this book, I was immediately reminded of Veronica Mars. Not because of the crime solving - because there obviously isn't any of that. But because gossip and cruel teenage behavior and the way those things can change a person so completely.

But this book isn't told through Veronica's voiceovers. It's told from the perspectives of four onlookers who hold important roles. Elaine, the popular girl, Josh, the best friend to the guy Alice allegedly slept with and later texted while he was driving, leading to his death, Kelsie, Alice's once best friend, and Kurt, the classic school nerd who no one speaks to but who has a crush on Alice.

All four of these characters have such different voices and perspectives - very different from Alice, who we only really get to hear from at the end of the book. They provide a broader understanding of the town, of the different high school mentalities, and provide so much depth to a 200 page novel.

But I think, to get a feel for each character and what drives who they are, you really have to have a sampling of each of their voices. So here are a couple of quotes from our four non-Alice protagonists:

(Taken from the ARC)

Elaine: "If I'd grown up in Manhattan and I wanted to stay in Manhattan and never leave because I felt safe there and I liked it, nobody would think twice. People would think I was sophisticated, probably. And why? Because they have a subway system? Because there's more than one movie theater? Because of the lions in front of the New York Public Library? (Yeah, I know about those, too.) I honestly don't get the difference. If I'd been born in Manhattan, I probably would have wanted to stay there just like I want to stay in Healy. And honestly, even in Manhattan I think I still would have been considered popular. And I'm not so small town that I don't realize that even in Manhattan, a girl like Alice Franklin would still have been considered a slut."

Josh: "The deal is, I know I'm dumb sometimes, but I try real hard most of the time to not be an asshole. And I guess that day in the library, I just felt like an asshole."

Kelsie: "The hard truth is I think I knew we weren't going to be friends anymore the day after Elaine's party when I read that text about her and Brandon and Tommy Cray. It sounds terrible and shallow and not at all like something the Kelsie Sanders I knew in Flint would have said but I've spent too many read sitting alone in the cafeteria, and I just can't handle doing it again. And I won't."

Kurt: "I was Kurt Morelli, space alien from another planet who had been granted temporary residency in their world. I had my routines: my evenings were spent reading or chatting online about science and literature with some of the university students and professors from my coursework, my Saturday afternoons watching history documentaries with my grandmother. And there was even Mr. Becker to chat with at school. In another year and a half I would be gone and in college. Why change anything? And then I remember Alice Franklin's tremendous knees and beautiful face and the way she cried on the bleachers after school that day. And I remember everything I knew about her. I remembered until my comfortable cocoon started to feel slight claustrophobic, and I knew I simply had to follow through with my idea before I chickened out." 

The best part of this book for me really was the way you got an image of the subject of the book (Alice) from all these people who aren't her. It's almost like, with each page of this book, the characters create an outline of Alice. All of their words and thoughts pull together and bang against who they think she based on their limited experiences and what they need her to be for them. Because really, to Josh, Kelsie and Elaine, Alice is just a tool. And even to Kurt, to an extent. (Although, as the book goes on and he spends more time with Alice, she becomes less of an object and more of a person for him to care about and that's an absolutely delightful transformation.)

Basically: the depth and complexity of this concept is so wonderful and complex. Both the structure and the subject matter really made me think about my behavior, as well as my motives. And I can only hope that this book finds its way into the hands of other people who need a reminder to think about what they do and say before there's no taking it back.

Oh, and, in case it wasn't clear, Kurt's my favorite/would-be BFF. This is maybe because he was so good to the outcast. I love the guy who's good to the outcast. Call me sentimental, I don't even care.

The long and short of it?

Something I've read (and seen) before but done so very differently - in the very best way.
World Building: Healy's a small town with a small town mentality that fascinates me.
Character Development: I just can't get over how much I love the fact that Alice only has one chapter but we know so much about her (accurate or otherwise) by then. And how much we know about all of the narrators. Love. It.
Prose: Each character has their own voice, which is so clear from the writing. All of the points.
Would I Recommend This Book?: If you're looking for something different, something to make you think, this book is contemporary novel is definitely for you!

Did this book hit a similar Veronica Mars note for you? Or maybe you equate it with something else (because you're not obsessed with a TV show like I am). Oh! And did you love Kurt, too? Let me know in the comments below!