Monday, May 05, 2014

Review: The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

Title: The Truth About Alice
Author: Jennifer Mathieu
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Release date: June 3rd 2014
Pages: 208
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: NetGalley - I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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Everyone knows Alice slept with two guys at one party. When Healy High star quarterback, Brandon Fitzsimmons, dies in a car crash, it was because he was sexting with Alice. Ask anybody. Rumor has it Alice Franklin is a slut. It's written all over the "slut stall" in the girls' bathroom: "Alice had sex in exchange for math test answers" and "Alice got an abortion last semester." After Brandon dies, the rumors start to spiral out of control. In this remarkable debut novel, four Healy High students tell all they "know" about Alice--and in doing so reveal their own secrets and motivations, painting a raw look at the realities of teen life. But exactly what is the truth about Alice? In the end there's only one person to ask: Alice herself.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I was really excited for this book; slut-shaming is an issue I feel strongly about, so the story sounded right up my alley. And I did really enjoy it; if The Truth About Alice is supposed to be a portrayal of how horrible people are to each other, then it definitely succeeded. But even though I appreciated its message, I still didn't love the novel: to me, the characters are underdeveloped and the story doesn't really go anywhere. That's why The Truth About Alice was only an okay read for me.

The characters are okay. Even though I'm not usually a fan of having so many different first-person narrators, I did like the concept of hearing Alice's story from different perspectives. I appreciated that Jennifer Mathieu actually managed to make the different characters' voices distinct. But I still don't think the characters are fully developed: there's Elaine, the most popular girl in school; Kelsie, Alice's ex-brest friend; Josh, the popular guy; and Kurt, the loser that befriends Alice when everyone else abandons her. They never really break out of these stereotypical molds, and we never get to find out anything about them as people. All of these characters' actions frustrated me throughout the novel, but I understand that them being horrible people is the point. Kurt, though, is supposed to be this great person for befriending Alice in her time of need, but I couldn't get myself to like him, either. If the only reason he starts talking to Alice is his romantic interest in her, this ruins any kind of genuine interest in helping her he might have, and it bothered me that this is never really addressed.

The description makes it seem like we first get to read about Alice from everyone else's perspective and will then get to hear her story from her own point of view so we can find out the "truth" about Alice. We do have a final chapter from Alice's point of view, but I didn't really see the point: there's no revelation, we find out nothing we didn't already know. Asides from the relationship between Alice and Kurt, there is no development over the course of the novel, so the story didn't really seem to be going anywhere, for me.

***This paragraph includes mild spoilers!***
It also bothered me how much of the message relies on the fact that the rumors aren't true, that Alice didn't actually sleep with Brandon and Tommy and wasn't sexting Brandon the night he died. I understand that the novel is supposed to show how harmful it is to make up rumors about people and how rumors and bullying completely exaggerate what Alice has done. But this reduced the message to anti-bullying, rather than anti-slut-shaming, a message that I think would have been important for this novel. Because even if Alice had slept with two guys at that party, that's none of anybody's business. And even if she had been sexting Brandon, it would have still been his fault that he crashed because he was drunk-driving and checking his phone. The anti-bullying message is really well-done, but at the cost of sacrificing defending female sexuality in a way I'd been hoping this novel would.

I know my review sounds very negative, but I really did enjoy The Truth About Alice, despite my problems with the characters and the message. The characters are too one-dimensional for me, and I wish the novel had a stronger anti-slut-shaming message, rather than just anti-bullying. But I did still enjoy the premise of the story, and if you're looking for a YA book that authentically portrays bullying, you should definitely give The Truth About Alice a try. 


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