Rumor has it Alice Franklin is a slut. It's written all over the bathroom stall at Healy High for everyone to see. And after star quarterback Brandon Fitzsimmons dies in a car accident, the rumors start to spiral out of control.
In this remarkable debut novel, four Healy High students - the girl who had the infamous party, the car accident survivor, the former best friend, and the boy next door - tell all they know.
But what exactly is the truth about Alice? From the blurb.
Having recently finished watching 13 Reasons Why, I've been wanting to re-read the book. But, having a book blog, I tend to feel a little guilty about re-reads. So when I was browsing my shelves, I noticed The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu, and remembered the two were similar in that they had bullying at the of the stories. It's such a thought-provoking story, and so incredibly important.
What's great about this book is that it's told from the perspective of other people, and show just how rumours can happen and get out of control. There's Elaine, the most popular girl in the year, who held the party in which Alice supposedly slept two two guys, Brandon Fitzsimmons and Tommy Cray; Kelsie, Alice's former best friend, Josh, Brandon's best friend who was in the car with him during the accident, and Kurt, outcast genius who lives next to Brandon's family. Alice is semi-popular, and while Elaine has tolerated her, she's had a problem with her since eighth grade, when she found her and Brandon kissing in the coat closet at a school dance, a dance she went to with Brandon. Before moving to Healy, Kelsie was a misfit at her previous school, but now she's semi-popular. She doesn't want to be the girl she was before, and doesn't want Alice's reputation to drag her down. Josh not only survived the crash, he saw what led to it; he's the one who tells Brandon's mum that Brandon was distracted by the sexual texts Alice was sending him. Kurt has always fancied Alice, and doesn't care about the rumours; he just wants to help her.
All four have their own story to tell, have their own thing that they're dealing with. For some, it's partially covered by what's said above, but for others it's not. But each person, in some way - and not always in the way you expect - has had a hand in how Alice is being treated now. But, like with 13 Reasons Why, the story shows how something small, like telling someone something about someone else, can have a snowball effect and ruin someone's life. I was bothered mostly by Kelsie; she was Alice's best friend for crying out loud, but she was jealous of her, and far too scared of becoming the outsider again, that she dumps her friend without a second thought. Sure, she misses her, but she believes everything she hears, she judges her, and can't bear the thought that being friends with her will affect her social status. She is such a coward. And sure, she's not had the best time, but that is absolutely no excuse for how disgustingly she treats Alice. God, I can't stand her. She may not have caused Alice to get bullied in the first place, but Alice needs her, and she turns away. The other three do varying levels of terrible things, and they're all, in part, to blame for what Alice is going through, and it's just awful.
The Truth About Alice is really short, at 199 pages, so there's not a huge amount more I can say without spoiling the story. I do want to say that I'm pretty sure Josh is gay, but I don't think he's admitted it to himself yet. I say "pretty sure", but really, I'd say he definitely is gay, but that's just my interpretation of what I've read. It's hinted at throughout his chapters, though he never actually comes out and says it. But by the end of the book, I think it's pretty clear that he is as far as I'm concerned, and that his sexuality is a major reason behind what he does to Alice. And although there's a part of me that thinks for this day and age, we need someone's sexuality to be more than hinted at, I think the story may have possibly played out a little differently if Josh had already admitted it to himself.
There's one other thing I want to say about this book, about just how incredibly important it is, but it's a major spoiler, so don't click the button if you don't want the book spoilt for you.
As I was reading, chapter after chapter, the more certain I became that I knew how the story would end. Like Hannah in 13 Reasons Why, I thought the bullying would become too much for Alice, and she would kill herself. She didn't. Whether she ever entertained ideas of doing so, we don't know, as only the final chapter is from her perspective. But in Kurt, she made a friend, a real friend, who genuinely cared about her, with the potential for more, and his friendship mattered. It made things easier. I don't know if things would have been different if she didn't have Kurt, but what I think is more important is that I thought she would commit suicide. I think it's really, really sad that that's what I thought would happen to her, like that was her only option. When of course it's not, and I don't think it should be. But for the "drama" of the story, I thought that's how it would end - as if it was a trope. But I think it shows just how important this book is, though. Alice doesn't die. Alice is experiencing hell at school, and she's still got another year until she finishes, but there is never any indication that she wants to give up on life. And maybe it's down to Kurt, and maybe it's not, maybe it's not something Alice has or ever would consider, we don't know as we only get the one chapter from her perspective, but I still think it's important that readers see that someone can experience such terrible bullying, but carry on. And keep going. And find someone to talk to. That being bullied doesn't have to mean the end. And for that, I am so, so glad this story exists.
The one negative is that there is use of the word "retarded" once in the book, by Kelsie, in regards to how she feels Alice is talking to her. I don't approve of ableist language being used, but in this case, I think it shows the kind of person she is, so it felt realistic. Saying that, there are other words, different language that could be used to show how awful Kelsie is - and her actions speak pretty loudly anyway, so it's not really necessary. It's used in her narration, rather than in dialogue, so it's never challenged. I do think it was realistic for the character, but to not have it challenged makes me uncomfortable.
A really quick but powerful read. It will open your eyes, it will make you think, and it will make you question all you hear. And it might make you reach out a hand to someone who is being bullied. Such a wonderful book, I highly recommend it.
Published: 2nd June 2015
Publisher: Square Fish
Jennifer Mathieu's Website
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