Monday, June 6, 2011

Review: Alice Bliss

Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington

Publication Date: June 2011
Publisher: Penguin Group USA
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: Harcover, 320pp
ISBN-13: 9780670022786

(Received for review from Pamela Dorman Books/ Viking)

Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound

Laura Harrington on the WEB: website, blog, facebook, twitter

Alice Bliss
Book Trailer: This is a great interview with Laura Harrington, courtesy of Good Morning Gloucester. She talks about her life, writing and
Alice Bliss!

Synopsis (Book Jacket):

When Alice Bliss learns that her father, Matt is being deployed to Iraq, she's heartbroken. Alice idolizes her father, loves working beside him in their garden, accompanying him on the occasional roofing job, playing baseball. When he ships out, Alice is faced with finding a way to fill the emptiness he has left behind.

Matt will miss seeing his daughter blossom from a tomboy into a full-blown teenager. Alice will learn to drive, join the track team, go to her first dance, and fall in love, all while trying to be strong for her mother, Angie, and take care of precocious little sister, Ellie. But the smell of Matt is starting to fade from his blue, shirt, which Alice wears every day, and the phone calls are never long enough.

Alice Bliss is a profoundly moving coming-of-age novel about love and its many variations - the support of a small town looking after its own; love between an absent father and his daughter; the complicated love between an adolescent girl and her mother; and an exploration of new love with the boy next door. These characters' struggles amid uncertain times echo our own, lending the novel an immediacy and a poignancy that are both relevant and real. At once universal and very personal, Alice Bliss is a transforming story about those who are left at home during wartime and a teenage girl bravely facing the future.


Laura Harrington, author of the debut novel,
Alice Bliss wears many hats, but at the heart of it all she is a writer. A playwright, lyricist, librettist and professor at MIT, Laura is branching out into the publishing world with a character taken from a musical she wrote called "Alice Unwrapped". Alice Bliss is a novel written for today, describing the lives of those left behind as fathers, husbands, and town members go off to war. Readers will fall in love with this 15 year old girl, who is struggling to keep her dad close as she goes through many changes in her life. From first love to driving and going to dances, Alice Bliss is a remarkable coming-of-age story that readers will love.

When Alice finds out her father, Matt is being deployed to Iraq she is devastated. Alice is the epitome of a 'daddy's girl'. They work together on jobs around town, they play together and even plant the garden together. How will she be able to survive without his presence in her life? Letters and phone calls just don't seem to be enough when her world is changing every day. She is falling in love with the boy next door. She's learning to drive. She's buying her first fancy dress for a dance, and he's missing it all. Alice tries to keep him close by taking over his studio as her own and planting the garden just like they always did, but her mom doesn't seem to understand and her little sister is just obvious.

Alice Bliss is the story of a young girl who is without her father at an important time in her life. Laura Harrington gives Alice a voice and tells her story with great feeling and compassion. Harrington is essentially able to channel the heart of a 15 year old girl who is experiencing new and amazing things in her life, while struggling with the absence of her father. Alice's father Matt is in the reserves and when he deploys to Iraq, Alice and her family are left behind to make the best of a bad situation. Many military families live on post and have the support of others who are going through the same things that they are, but families of reserve members do not have that support system.

I thought Harrington did a remarkable job showing the reader how the war affects the families and communities who wait and worry and try to go on with life when their loved ones face danger every day. Alice is a character that is easy to relate to, she is going through some of the same things that every teenage girl goes through and it's sad that her father has to miss these wonderful moments in her life.

I liked the fact that the author allowed Alice to grieve over the fact that Matt was not there and was still able to keep his memory close. She wears his shirt every day because it smells like him and I felt it was a very poignant moment in the book when it starts to loose that smell. She also measures time by the garden they always planted together. He may be home by the time the corn is ready, he may be home by the time the tomatoes are ripe, etc. I thought that was a brilliant way for the reader to connect the two of them even though they are far apart. We don't know much about Matt, as he is leaving at the beginning of the book, but we learn what kind of man and what kind of father he was through Alice. It was very heart-wrenching to read and I found myself becoming misty eyed several times throughout the book. Harrington was able to cause readers to feel something, great accomplishment in a debut novel.

Alice's relationship with her mother is interesting in this book. We hear so much about how mothers and daughters just can't seem to get along during the teenage years and Harrington plays on this theme as well. Alice's mom doesn't see why the garden is so important to her, what bugged me a little was the fact that she tried to put obstacles in Alice's path to make her not plant the garden. As a character, I found Angie a bit clueless. She seemed insensitive in some ways, but then I began to realize that she was struggling too and maybe that had something to do with how she reacted. Harrington shows the affects of Matt's absence on not only Alice, but her mom, her sister and even her town.

This is a really remarkable book and I want to recommend it to all of my readers. I think it is so important to give the war a personal face. To show readers the people who are affected by what's going on overseas. To give them insight into what these families are going through. I think we are far to removed from these issues and we need more books like this one to remind us of what's going on and what we stand to lose.

Alice Bliss is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

Please take a look at a Q & A with Laura Harrington later today for your chance to win a copy of Alice Bliss.

I'm giving this one 5 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Laura Harrington is an award-winning playwright, lyricist and librettist. She teaches playwriting at MIT and lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Alice Bliss, her first novel, grew out of her one-woman musical, Alice Unwrapped.

No comments: