Monday, July 14, 2014

Review: The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication Date: June 1, 2014
Page Count: 208
Source/Format: E-galley provided by publisher
Keywords: rumors, mystery, scandal

Alice Franklin is a slut. Or at least that's what everyone says. In most towns, rumors come and go as quickly as they start. But not in Healy, where everyone knows everyone, and there is nothing as exciting or juicy happening as the unattainably cool looking Alice sleeping with both the high school football team's star player, and a college guy. In the same night. At almost the same time. Fuel is added to the rumor fire when the star football player, Brandon, dies in a car accident and it was supposedly all Alice's fault. Suddenly Alice, who before floated through high school and was almost even popular, becomes the topic of every conversation and the target of every insult and slur. Everyone has something to say and add to the rumor mill. But at the heart of the millions of rumors swirling around about Alice Franklin, the only person who knows the real truth is Alice.

**I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for review. This in no way swayed or influenced my opinion on the book. Promise! Quotes in this review may also be reflected differently in the final copy of the book.**
If I'd grown up in Manhattan and I wanted to stay in Manhattan and never leave because I felt safe there and 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. 
 When a scandal has taken over a small town high school, everyone always has a story to add or something to contribute. Jennifer Mathieu, the author of The Truth About Alice, perfectly toys with this idea by offering five different narrators, each with a different perspective on the night that Alice Franklin had sex with two guys, and the aftermath. There is Elaine, the top-tier popular girl who was the hostess of the party that the double sex happened at. There is Kelsie, who used to be Alice's best friend, but ditched her as soon as the rumors came to fruition and her chances of being popular became jeopardized. There is Kurt, the most outcast of outcast who sees through all of the rumors and bullshit and still wants to pursue a friendship with Alice, who he has been crushing on for years. And there is Josh, the best friend of the star football player and who was in the car crash that took his life. Each perspective was narrated in first person and carried out very successfully. Without necessarily seeing the chapter header with who was telling their piece of the story, I knew who it was. Their narration was also super true to how teenagers would tell a story, complete with 'like' and 'you know,' but not too many! This well executed use of multiple narrators helped to create a 360 view of the situation at hand, and we see how each person becomes instrumental in Alice's role as the bully target. The narratives don't match moment by moment, but in the instances where they synced up, I did get a little bored reading the same situation through four different pairs of eyes.
There is one thing I've learned about people: they don't get that mean and nasty overnight. It's not human nature. But if you give people enough time, eventually they'll do the most heartbreaking stuff in the world.
Spoilers ahead: One thing I took issue with in this story, is that it took a romance to show Alice the light after being bullied. Throughout the book, we see Alice participate in problematic sexual relationships with boys, and the target on her back stemmed from a rumor about sex. At the end of the book, when she ends up with Kurt and he basically becomes responsible for finding happiness again, I groaned out loud.

I liked Kurt at first. He was a smart outcast that remained witty when dealing with the popular kids. Then we start to learn that he has more or less stalked Alice for a majority of their time in high school. He pays acute attention to her, reads her tossed assignments and essays, has her on a metaphor-riddled pedestal, and then uses this secretly gained information to get in on her good side when she ends up in the outcast pool with him. This is called being a predator, y'all. Kurt doesn't seem like a predator in the traditional sense (see: To Catch a Predator), but he found Alice's moment of weakness, and saw his opportunity to get in with her. And of course they end up together and he is her savior. I would've found it much more powerful if Kelsie was the one who turned her back on popularity FOR ONCE, to stick up for her old best friend. Not just another dude looking to take advantage of Alice Franklin. END OF SPOILERS!
How much did it hurt? It was like a million paper cuts on my heart. Because it was slow, and not all at once.
The Truth About Alice is a really eye-opening account of bullying and the people that participate in it. We don't get to see much of Alice's perspective on the matter, but it was riveting to read why these characters believed the rumor's that they heard, and why they kept perpetuating them. What I also really loved about these bullying characters, was that if people knew their secrets, they would be just as bullied as Alice was. Even though we should hate these characters for making Alice's life a living hell, we also sympathize with them because they are fighting their own demons. I especially loved Kelsie's perspective. Her backstory was heartbreaking, and she had an inside scoop on Alice up until the night of the party that shattered her reputation

Even though I disliked the outcome of this book, I thought Mathieu pulled off the multiple storytellers very well. I knew exactly who each character was, and each one had intriguing backstories and different perspectives to add to Alice's downfall.

Thank you to the publisher for allowing me to experience this book early!

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