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.View Spoiler »There was a very powerful scene when one of the characters, who has grown up in a very conservative household and has been dragged to many abortion protests by her mother, has to secretly visit one to obtain an abortion. After the fact her mother never acknowledges the abortion again and resumes her pro-life-anti-choice protesting, which speaks volumes about the complicated relationship our society has with freedom of choice, teenage sexuality, and slut shaming) « Hide Spoiler
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.