The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu- Review

Posted December 17, 2014 by Cristina (Girl in the Pages) in Books, Reviews / 15 Comments

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu- ReviewThe Truth About Alice: A Novel by Jennifer Mathieu
Also by this author: Devoted, Afterward, Moxie
Published by Roaring Brook Press on June 3rd 2014
Pages: 199 •Goodreads

Everyone knows Alice slept with two guys at one party.
But did you know Alice was sexting Brandon when he crashed his car?
It's true. Ask ANYBODY.

Rumor has it that 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 has the infamous party, the car accident survivor, the former best friend, and the boy next door—tell all they know.
But exactly what is the truth about Alice? In the end there's only one person to ask: Alice herself.

“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.”

I have SO much to say about this book, and I’m going to do my best to coherently organize my thoughts. I’ve been waiting a long time to read this novel, specifically because of the subject matter. I think there’s not enough YA books that look at society’s problems with teenage sexaulity, and the stigmas, rumors, and slut shaming that go along with it. I had hope that this book would address this very prevalent aspect of high school, and I wasn’t disappointed. The Truth About Alice was the most honest book I’ve read in 2014.

The novel is narrated by five alternating perspectives: Elaine (the school’s Queen Bee), Kelsie (Alice’s former best friend), Josh (Brandon’s best friend) and Kurt (the school genius/outcast), and finally, at the very end, Alice herself. While many of these characters do embody a high school stereotype, there’s a raw honesty in their narratives that makes them feel real. They all have damaging secrets that gnaw at them ceaselessly and cause them to set actions in motion against Alice. They all acknowledge that what they’re doing (or not doing) to Alice is wrong- yet they admit that their own self-preservation, whether from guilt or from falling off of the social ladder, takes priority. They are all teenagers who have complicated feelings and relationships with sex and their sexuality, and the narrative deals with topics ranging from abortion to dealing with homosexual feelings to what constitutes as consent. None of these issues overwhelm the story though, they exist subtly in the different character’s personal backgrounds, but they are present enough to start a conversation about and to acknowledge that they are very real things teens face.

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The main focus of the book is bullying. Through the perspectives of Alice’s four classmates, we see how they all bully her in subtle and obvious ways: from withholding information from her that could help clear her reputation to defacing school property with derogatory graffiti about her to socially isolating her. In such a small town, Alice becomes a scapegoat for an incident that she couldn’t possibly, logically be held responsible for, yet even the police are anxious to pin her texting (or, allegedly “sexting”) Brandon while he was driving as the cause of his fatal crash, and turn a blind eye to other factors influencing his poor driving that led to the accident. Brandon is elevated to a deity in death (though throughout the narrative it becomes apparent he has no small amount of flaws) and his post-humus perfection makes it impossible for Alice to be seen in a fair light- everything about her is under scrutiny, a sure indicator that she’s a bad seed. Alice is trapped in a never-ending paradox: she’s branded a slut for having sex (because a) people found out about it and b) one of the guys she was with died) yet all of her tormenters are sexually active themselves and hiding secrets related to their experiences, which they spin in the most horrendous way, transforming them into rumors about her. Alice becomes the single canvas for an the sins of an entire group, a shared sacrifice to carry out everyone else’s penance.

That’s not to say Alice is 100% a victim in this novel, and that’s what I like about it. Alice has her flaws. She’s made mistakes (though not necessarily more than anyone else), and her mistakes are magnified into an uncrushable swell of shame when she’s put under a microscope after Brandon’s death. She’s not always the nicest to even those few who try and stand by her, and it’s worth noting that she ran in the same circles with a lot of the cruel kids before Brandon’s death. She was very likely One Of Them. Yet this goes to show the fickle and often volatile nature of teenage bullying: it’s ruthless and can happen to anyone.

Overall: This book was a stunning debut and was successful at what it set out to do: tell a story about the stigma of sexuality, the propensity of people to find a scapegoat when faced with tragedy, and the out of control nature of bullying that grows to become larger than even what the bullies intended. Mathieu doesn’t shy away from the hard topics, and while her characters may be based on high school stereotypes, they all have deeper problems that they project onto and through their bullying of Alice. My one complaint is that the ending lacked closure, there wasn’t any grand moment of justice for Alice, rather it hints at the hope of the harassment perhaps toning down in the future. Matthieu tells a powerful tale in less than two hundred pages of all the ugly, scary sides of being a teenager under the social firing squad of a small town and even smaller student body.



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15 responses to “The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu- Review

  1. I’m so happy you liked this book so much. I have to say the alternating points of views was such a great idea and while the characters were on the surface stereotypes, Mathieu really makes them their own. I love how realistic they were. The rumors, the slut shaming, the ostracizing, it was so painful and brutal to read about, but it was done so well.

    It was just a great book. The scene you mentioned with Kelsey really got to me too, reading it made me put another book down that I was reading later because of the scene in The Truth About Alice. I couldn’t go through the pain twice. It’s so amazing how much feeling Mathieu put into a book this short.

    • I was impressed as well with how realistic the different pov’s were while still being sort of caricatures of typical high school stereotypes- the author did a fantastic job balancing the stereotypes with a believable story. I was stunned at how effective the story she told was with it being less than 200 pages! At first I was annoyed by the lack of closure at the end but I think it adds to the power of the narrative, that accusations and bullying and harassment cause consequences and ruin reputations much farther than often intended ( and it was so interesting to read the selfish guilt that each character felt over their bullying actions).

      • The Truth About Alice really gave me an Easy A vibe, if you’ve seen that movie. I like how Mathieu told the story with a bit of mystery surrounding the actual events. It was nice to see each character’s lives beyond the main Alice plot. I liked how the ending didn’t have a perfectly wrapped up ending, it’s definitely realistic and open ended and it would have taken time for everyone to get over the rumors about Alice. It was so interesting seeing how each character fit into the rumor and Alice’s life.

        • Easy A is a great comparison! (Although this felt a bit darker to me). I think novels like this are so important because this stuff does happen all the time without any sort of resolution…and at the end of the day none of the characters really got any sort of personal resolutions to their own problems either.

          • Oh yes, it was definitely darker than Easy A, but the basic idea rang in both stories. There needs to be more novels about serious issues like this. I like how it was left open ended and there was no real resolution to any of it.

  2. What a brilliant review! I absolutely loved this book, I definitely agree that it’s one of the most honest books I have read in a long time. The characters all had their flaws and that was what made them so realistic, even Alice. I really liked the fact that I came to feel I knew Alice more than the other characters, even before you got her point of view. Such a brilliant book, can’t wait to see what the author does next.

    • Thank you! This book really resonated with me because I think that things like slut shaming, bullying, etc are not discussed realistically enough in YA. I was so happy Mathieu didn’t shy away from so many controversial topics, and I think for a debut it was so impressive, because as you said, we really come to feel as though we know Alice through all of the different POVs without it becoming clunky or confusing.

  3. I have been so intrigued by this book for so long and I always think about buying/reading it but then decide against it for some reason. Your review convinced me that I MUST read this as soon as possible. It sounds amazing and I’m glad you liked it.

    • I admit I did get it from the library because I was unsure how the format was going to work (what with the different povs and everything) but I was so pleasantly surprised by this book and it’s definitely a raw and realistic read. I’m glad you found my review helpful!

  4. Carolsue

    What a great review. This subject is so timely these days and the different perspectives are so interesting. I do want to read it!

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