Book Review: The Truth About Alice, Jennifer Mathieu (2014)

November 7th, 2014 11:43 am by mad mags

A Study in Slut-Shaming / The Anatomy of a Rumor

four out of five stars

“I’m so glad you want to be my friend,” she laughed. “Even though I’ve had seven abortions and slept with the principal and plotted to have Brandon Fitzsimmons murdered by Mafia hit men before killing him with my dirty texting, right?”

The end-of-the-summer party at Elaine O’dea’s house didn’t promise to be anything special. After all, it was thrown together at the last minute, after Elaine’s parents announced that they’d be spending the night at a friend’s house a few towns over. And for the most part, it was pretty unremarkable: Healy High students sitting around, getting drunk and watching tv. That is, until star quarterback Brandon Fitzsimmons texted Josh Waverly to brag that he and Tommy Cray had both “done” Alice Franklin in the upstairs guest bedroom: Brandon, then Tommy, then Brandon again.

Almost overnight, Alice is branded the school slut. Slowly but surely, her friends distance themselves from her; she becomes the subject of much salacious gossip, even among the parents; and hateful graffiti starts to pop up in the girls’ bathroom. But an ugly rumor that might have otherwise run its course spirals out of control when a drunk Brandon dies in a car accident – and his drunk passenger and best friend Josh claims that he was sexting with Alice when it happened. Now, Alice isn’t just a slut, but a murderer too.

Alice’s story is told through four Healy High students: Elaine, the resident popular girl and one of Alice’s many soon-to-be-ex-friends; Josh, the wide receiver who may or may not have a crush on his longtime friend; Kelsie Sanders, a transplant to Texas from Flint whom Alice took under her wing; and Kurt Morelli, the school genius who’s been crushing on Alice for years. Through them, the events leading up to and following Elaine’s infamous party are slowly unveiled.

This is a risky strategy – one that threatens to undermine Alice’s own agency – but I think it works here. For one, the students are remarkably candid: though it takes some time and quite a lot of hinting, eventually they cop to their heinous behavior, in some cases even reevaluating their decisions and becoming more self-aware.

Additionally, their accounts provide numerous clues to Alice’s state of mind. It’s obvious that the rumor is just that – a rumor. (Though it’s worth noting that the truth isn’t as horrifying as I’d feared; The Truth About Alice is, thankfully, free of rape, a la C. Desir’s Fault Line. Also worth noting is the fact that Alice wouldn’t be deserving of such treatment even if the rumors were true.) While the last chapter is narrated by Alice herself, it’s incredibly brief and doesn’t directly touch upon the veracity of the rumors.

In addition to slut-shaming and gossip, Mathieu touches upon a number of other timely topics as well: the deference shown to student athletes; abortion, particularly the phenomenon wherein anti-choicers justify their daughter’s/wife’s/own abortion as special and above criticism; exploring one’s sexual orientation in a restrictive environment; underage alcohol use/abuse; sexual double standards; and parental neglect and denial.

Naturally, this book contains some problematic language, which is essential to the story line. Trigger warning for extensive bullying and a coercive abortion.

The Truth About Alice is a quick and engaging read, and one that will hopefully have teens – and adults – examining their own behavior and stereotypes.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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