Monday, July 21, 2014

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

Published June 3, 2014 by Roaring Book Press
Hardcover, 199 pages
Received from publisher through NetGalley -- thanks!

Told in four different perspectives, the story of Alice Franklin gets unravelled. At its core, this book is about rumours and the consequences of them. Rumours about Alice Franklin and how she slept with two guys in one night and how she was the cause of one of the guys' death in a car crash swirl at school. It doesn't matter whether they're true or not because everyone believes it and eventually, Alice gets shunned by her schoolmates. Through the eyes of Elaine, the popular girl; Kelsey, the former best friend; Josh, the friend of the deceased and Kurt, the boy next door we find out what their reasoning is behind their actions as they all play a part in the story of Alice Franklin and bit by bit, we'll also discover what the truth about Alice is.

I'm having such a hard time writing a decent review (I believe this is my fourth time writing this and it usually only takes me one try) so I'm just going to jump straight in and break my thoughts down for you.

The Truth About Alice is one of the shortest YA books I have ever read at only 199 pages but I am so amazed at what Mathieu was able to include.
Really, it is this that impresses me the most about this book. Mathieu hits upon so many key themes and ideas and she does it in 199 pages. And it's amazing. You might think it's a bit too short for a full story to grow - that was what I first thought - but it is possible and Mathieu shows us that. I'm walking away from this book satisfied and confident that everything that the author wanted to say has been said. There really is nothing in this book I could want to change because it's fantastic the way it is and I actually the fact that it's on the shorter side works to its advantage! At the heart of The Truth About Alice, we have a story about rumours in high school and how it affects people and the damage that it can do and I found the shortness of the book helped pack in that idea really nicely. If it were longer, I feel like maybe there would have been too much going on that it would have been harder to discern what the point of the book was. But The Truth About Alice isn't long, it's short and sweet and powerful.

The story didn't really kick in for me until the second half.
I have to be honest with you! Reading this book wasn't immediate and continuous love for me. I had a really hard time enjoying what I was reading in the first half because for whatever reason, it just wasn't clicking with me. I couldn't really see where the book was going and what it was leading up to and that bugged me a bit. I don't necessarily want everything to be laid out so that there's no spontaneity but I do also like a level of awareness when I'm reading. I like to have an idea of where the story is heading and with The Truth About Alice, I had zero freaking clue. And perhaps it was because I couldn't let that go or that I didn't like the characters much but I just could NOT get into it. Until the second half. As you know. Then, the story just really came together for me and I started to enjoy myself a lot more.

And if we're continuing to be honest, I'm going to say that I did not like any of the characters one bit.
They were annoying and frustrating and the things they did were so horrible and you really do question whether these people are even human at times because they do such terrible things to their peers for their own benefit. Like do they not have a conscious? So yeah I did really despise the characters about 90% of the time but seriously? It's the fact that they it's true. These characters who did horrible things strengthened the story. And I think that was the point. Like these aren't characters that you're supposed to like. They do horrible things and I have to tell you that there were points where I was just so FED UP with these characters that I had to take a breather. They really are frustrating... but at the same time, I could understand where they're coming from.

I read an article once about how we seem to be much less forgiving and understanding when it comes to characters in books when they do something we don't feel is morally right. And I have to say I agree with that. I'm the type of person who, in real life, hates thinking the worst of people and jumping to conclusions about what they've done. I don't believe that the actions of a person necessarily defines them (not all the time, anyway). But in books when I see characters do silly and bad things, it's like a switch for me turns off. It probably does have to do with the fact that characters are indeed characters - they aren't real - and no matter how great an author's development and writing could be, I don't think I'm ever going to regard a character the same way as an actual person because I don't think I'll ever be able to totally see them as a person, if that makes any sense? I can feel maybe 70% or 80% but I don't know if the full 100% will always happen for me.

(I'm not sure if I'm making any sense at all because this sounds really confusing to me even in my head but I'm just going to roll with it, okay?)

The thing is though, humans are HORRIBLE. We do terrible, terrible things every single day. You see it in the newspaper, on TV. And yeah, spreading rumours and ruining someone's life basically is different from going on a killing spree or blowing up a town. It's WAY different but even so, I liked how Mathieu had the characters explain their actions. I never felt like they justified what they did and made it all right but it made me kinda see what it was like in their positions. And it was tough, it was hard to see how much damage these people caused just because they were worried for themselves but I can't say I've never had the same thoughts as they've had. Even if I haven't done something so bad on that scale, I do think I find a little bit of myself in each of them based on their actions and what I have done in the past. I'm not perfect and I know I have done some really shitty things in the past. And sometimes there isn't a really good explanation for things. Sometimes it's just I wanted to fit in or I didn't want to get in trouble or she/he was an easy target. And maybe it is a weak reason for bullying someone and ruining their life but that's just the way we are. And I don't know, I suck at phrasing my thoughts but that particular idea? Whether it was intended or if it's just something that I gathered from the book, it's so interesting and heartbreaking for me at the same time. But it made the story stand out. And maybe this is controversial but I feel like all of us can have a bit of understanding for each other and what we do even if it's like the worst person alive and even if they do such horrible things it makes you want to puke. Because at the end I feel like we're kinda all one and the same in our thoughts and feelings.

So I probably should have saved that for a separate post but basically yeah, the characters are horrible but I kinda liked that about the story. How it didn't perfect things up and it was interesting to see the characters' reasoning behind their actions. Even though it still doesn't excuse what they've done and how bad their actions were. And I'm sorry for how long that was.

And finally, I really liked the way Mathieu wrote this story with four alternating POVs. 
I didn't really think it would work but it did work really well! I felt like the characters were distinct enough (meaning that they fell into categories really nicely: the popular girl, the jock, the wanting to fit in girl, and the nerdy outcast). They were definitely stereotyped a lot but I didn't mind that. It helped set them apart in the POVs which I thought would get really confusing and unnecessary but quite the opposite actually! I thought they added a lot to the story and I can't imagine a better way to have told the story of Alice Franklin.

Okay, I'm just going to start wrapping this up because I know I rambled SO MUCH. My reviews seem to get longer by post. But anyway, I really did enjoy this book a lot! I feel like Mathieu did a wonderful job telling her story and I can't imagine it any other way. The thing about rumours in high schools and slut shaming and all that stuff is really serious and it's important to let people - not just teens - understand the consequences of those things and I think Mathieu was really able to let that sink in. It also made me think a lot, evidentally, which might have been better expressed in another post but I couldn't help myself. It kinda all came out. So yeah, really really liked this book overall! It can be hard to stomach at times, the sheer terribleness of what these people are doing but it's definitely a rewarding book if you stick with it! And... yeah, I probably have more to say but with that really long ramble, I think I'm sucked a bit dry so I'll leave it at that! 

YOU if you're looking for a book that packs a lot of punch and that deals with some more serious issues like bullying and slut-shaming and stuff like that. I honestly think that everyone should pick this up because it definitely does deal with situations that everyone could do with learning a little more about.


Kelley @ Oh, The Books! gives it 4 stars: "It’s part mystery, part social commentary, and a great helping of exploring relationships. And probably the thing that sold me hardest on this book? The writing was high quality; it does not read like a debut!"

Andi @ Andi's Abc's says: "Actually that was my biggest problem with the story. The bullying was never dealt with at all. Not by the school, not by Alice, not be Alice’s mom. It was pretty bad and it was used like a nonissue, background plot point."

Kelly @ Effortlessly Reading gives it 3 stars: "On the other hand, although I do like how raw and real The Truth About Alice was, in the end, I felt like I got nothing much out of the book. Yes, I got the message The Truth About Alice is sending out, but I just didn’t have a strong sense of the book."

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