book review / sam

Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington

WARNING: SPOILERS.

I have read a few other books between the Selection and Alice Bliss but I felt like I needed to write this review first. There are very few books that I will sit down and read in one shot. When I started Alice Bliss I knew that it was going to be an emotional story and I knew that it was a story that was going to strike home. I did not intend to stay up until two in the morning reading it. I did not intend to cry as much as I did. This is one of those rare books that I’ve found I could connect with and I was glad that it was able to capture some of the realities of my childhood.

See, I grew up as an army brat. Second generation – my mom was also a military brat. My father is still active duty and is currently stationed at Fort Drum in Upstate New York for the third time. I grew up there for the most part and if I have a hometown I suppose it’s probably there.

Alice Bliss, the title character, is the daughter of a reservist from Central New York. Already we’re treading on some common ground. Granted, Alice had a much different childhood than most military kids. Her father was not career military and Laura Harrington portrays an interesting sub-sect of our unique subculture: the kids who never realized that they might some day be must like us until their fathers were taken away.

I don’t think it’s really much of a spoiler to say that Alice’s father – who she loves and is extremely close to – dies in this novel. The newer editions of this novel come with the tag line, “Can you ever let go of those who leave?” Maybe you can interpret that as someone leaving for deployment but no. When someone leaves for a deployment they don’t really leave. They are gone but they are still there, still a part of your life.

And Matt Bliss doesn’t die at first. The first half of the novel is about Alice growing up – turning from your average tomboy into a young woman. It’s about first kisses, first loves, boys, and all the sorts of things a father should be there to see. She struggles to hold on to her father, their traditions, and at the same time take care of her mother and sister. It’s something that every military kid goes through at some point; you grow up a lot faster than people will ever give you credit for when a parent is deployed.

I loved Alice because she was me. She was that tomboy. If she had been in a traditional military family that moved around I think she really would have been me. I never had a hometown or life long friends or family that lived in town with me. In that regard, Alice is lucky. And each family member and friend and small town neighbor has their own little story and personality. And then there is Matt. Matt, who you only see for a little while and almost always through Alice’s eyes.

He’s a guy; a lot like my own dad. And when he leaves he makes sure to leave Alice little stepping stones. He helps her come up with a plan if things get too hard for her mom. He shows her where to find extra money in case of an emergency. And he leaves her a series of letters in case he never comes home. A letter for her wedding day, a letter for her first heart break, a letter for her high school and college graduation. Little letters for all those moments where she might have needed him.

Ultimately, Alice Bliss is a book about family. It’s a book about trials, heartache, loss, acceptance, and growing up. If you want a good, emotional, and absolutely human story then you should read this book today. You will not regret it.

There are very few books that I would ever gift or pass on to my picky reader of a youngest sister or my mother and her friends. This is one of them. You will need a lot of tissues if you decide to read this book but you SHOULD read this book. Particularly if you have any of these Guard or Reservist Brats in your lives and want to see what things are like for them. Because this book has done a better job of explaining what it’s like to live through a deployment than most other books I have read. I only wish there was a book written this well for kids that live with this all the time.

I only had two problems with this book. The first is a personal problem. Alice’s uncle tells her she can get her drivers license when she’s sixteen. But as any frustrated parent – particularly a military parent whose come from pretty much any other state – will tell you sixteen is the age you get your PERMIT in New York. You get your license at sixteen-and-a-half and your unrestricted license at seventeen. The second? I really would have liked to have seen more of what Matt wrote to Alice and been there for those big moments. There was a prologue at the beginning of the book. I think it wouldn’t have gone amiss to fast forward in time to her high school graduation of wedding to see one more of Matt’s letters and to really see how Alice and her little sister have grown up.

FINAL SCORE: A-

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