I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to preview The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu. A brutally honest portrayal of the power of rumor in high school, The Truth About Alice transcends the Teen/YA genre label it receives. Anyone who has ever walked the halls of high school considering the hierarchies and his or her place in them will relate to this brief but effective novel about Alice Franklin and her fall from grace.
When Brandon, the star quarterback of the high school football team and one of two guys Alice supposedly slept with at the same end-of-summer party, dies in a car accident just weeks into the school year, everyone blames Alice. While the rumor of her sexual exploits changed the way people looked at Alice, the accusations related to the accident turn her into a pariah.
The tale is told from four of Alice’s classmates from the small town of Healy, Texas. Elaine has a dubious history with Alice and it was her party where the rumor about Alice started. As the most popular girl in school with a bit of a score to settle, she is only too ready to believe that Alice slept with not one but two guys at her party. Kelsie moved to Healy freshman year and Alice quickly became her best friend. But when the rumors about Alice reach Kelsie, she pulls away from her. Fear of losing her own place among the popular crowd and returning to the nobody she was before arriving in Healy, Kelsie has other reasons for doubting Alice’s version of events. Josh was in the car accident that killed his best friend. Reeling from the loss and guilt, blaming Alice becomes as effective a distraction as anything. Kurt might be the smartest kid in the school but many also consider him to be the weirdest. But that doesn’t seem to faze Kurt who keeps his perspective in check by looking beyond what Healy has to offer. When he watches everyone around him turn on Alice, he reaches out to her instead.
Mathieu has done an excellent job of capturing the distinctive teenage voices of her characters. The first person narratives show the characters’ internal honesty in contrast with the versions of themselves they present to their classmates, friends, parents, and the rest of the town. It shows the self-awareness that many overlook in teenagers or assume isn’t there but also how easy it is to go against what might be right in the face of peer and community pressure. Indeed, the adults of the novel might not be the focus, but their influence is felt throughout, particularly in those hypocritical moments. Whether they’re the parents of the central narrators or other figures in the Healy community, the adults prove to be as much at fault as the students when it comes to how Alice is treated.
Providing so many indirect images of Alice before finally allowing her to speak for herself is a wonderful way to demonstrate the way that rumors and bullying spread. The novel doesn’t apologize for those who sit by and do nothing as someone’s character is assassinated. Neither does it portray them as horrible, evil people. Instead, it portrays them as what they are: human. Showing a range of actions and reactions, The Truth About Alice leaves judgment up to the reader.
The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu will be available starting June 3, 2014.