Saturday, June 28, 2014

"The Truth about Alice," by Jennifer Mathieu

The Main Cast:

Alice: A sorta-kinda-popular girl who is outcast when she's accused of promiscuity and blamed for a popular quarterback's death. Who is the real girl behind the rumours?

Elaine: The most popular girl in school, who believes and happily spreads the rumours about Alice.

Josh: The best friend of the dead quarterback who is the only one who really knows what went on in that car before it crashed.

Kurt: The class nerd who has longed after Alice for years.

Kelsie: Alice's former best friend, who decides to use the scandal to enact her long-repressed desire for vengeance.

Angst Checklist:
  • Slut-shaming
  • Repressed sexuality
  • Bullying
  • Being a Lying Liar who Lies, YOU LIAR (KELSIE!)
  • Best Friends
  • Absolutely Failing At Being a Best Friend (KELSIE)
  • Grief
  • Perception
  • Male privilege
The Word: This novel is what 13 Reasons Why tried and ultimately failed to be: a novel about perception and rumour and how a mixture of malice from a few and ambivalent enabling from many can completely assassinate a normal person's character.

There are two major "truths" about Alice Franklin. The first is that she slept with two guys at a high school party - college boy Tommy and popular quarterback Brandon. The second is that she was sexting Brandon the night he lost control of his car and fatally crashed. All the characters live in Healy, a small Texas football town, and with the loss of its Golden Boy Football Hero, everyone is quick to blame the loner slut from a broken home, turning Alice into a despised outcast.

This novel is told from five alternating viewpoints (with Alice's concluding the book). Each perspective is skewed in its own way, and reveals more about the perceiver than it does the perceived.  I found this storytelling device incredibly effective, as each character's examination of Alice's situation gives them insight into their own lives and problems.

First, there's Elaine, the Queen Bee whose party Alice allegedly double-dipped at, and my favourite character. Her personal history with Alice gives her plenty of reasons to believe the rumours and few reasons to care if they're not true. She's also honest about pretty much everything, even herself and her own blind spots, privileges, and limitations. She's the town Mean Girl and she's pretty happy with her lot in life, and I kind of loved her acceptance of herself.

Next is Kurt, the socially ostracized nerd who's worshipped Alice from afar, and only really gets the courage to reach out to her after she's been tarred and feathered by the rest of the town. Kurt's obsessiveness about her is a little creepy, but his perspective is interesting. He thinks Alice is the closest humanity will ever come to producing a Perfect Human Being, but by actually hanging out with her, he discovers she's more than a fantasy or an Unattainable Hot Girl to stare at.

We also get the perspective of Josh, Brandon's best friend who was in the passenger seat when Brandon crashed his car. While Elaine's and Kurt's POVs paint Brandon in a pretty asstastic light, Josh helps show the other side of that. Brandon still comes across as an entitled, privileged asshole, but he was human. He had friends that he liked and family that he loved - friends and family who are legitimately devastated that he's gone. Of course, Josh is also the source of the story that Alice sexted Brandon the night he was killed - and getting to the heart of that whole mess is the other point of Josh's POV.

Last, and certainly least, we get Kelsie. Formerly Alice's best friend, she abandons her once the scandal breaks to avoid losing her coveted spot at the popular table. That, in itself, would be understandable enough. High school can be a jungle. The further in we get, the more we realize that Kelsie is a spineless, hypocritical, obsessive, venomous little parasite who has secretly resented Alice for over a year for wildly irrational reasons.

If anyone deserves to be the outright antagonist of this novel (other than Brandon, RIP) it's her. Elaine is an enabler, Kurt is blinded by lust/adoration, Josh lies to cover up his own tangled feelings of love and guilt - but Kelsie is really the only one of the four who intentionally hurts Alice out of a desire to hurt Alice. And I kind of wanted her to suffer some really heinous karmic punishment. She doesn't (that's not really the novel's point), but I hated her enough to wish that she did. Hell, I'd read a sequel if it was all about how everyone found out what a toxic social remora she is and shunned her forever.

OTHER THAN THAT, however, The Truth About Alice was an intense, quick read with some excellent characterization.

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