Book Review: ALICE BLISS by Laura Harrington

As I started this review, I wished I had a rating system in place to adequately express how special Laura Harrington’s Alice Bliss is. If I went by stars, I’d give it twelve. If I used thumbs to express approval, I’d put up all my fingers, too.

Fifteen-year-old Alice is devastated when her Army Reservist father, Matt, is shipped out to Iraq. She keeps herself busy by joining the track team, helping her mother take care of her 8-year-old sister, Ellie, and tending to the vegetable garden Alice plants with her father every year. She also starts having confusing feelings about Henry, the boy she’s been best friends with since they were little kids. In Matt’s absence, Alice leaves childhood behind and grows into a young woman who’s every bit her father’s daughter.

This book wrecked me. I cannot remember the last time I cried while reading, let alone shed enough tears to water Alice and Matt’s crop. But it wasn’t because Harrington tried to yank on my heartstrings; her style is unsentimental and not without levity. No, I was moved by the different ways the family members long for and honor Matt, by their determination to make him proud by not falling apart.

The beauty of Harrington’s writing is also exemplified by what she leaves out, such as what’s really being said in this early scene, when Matt goes over the plan for the garden with Alice so she can take care of it while he’s gone:

“You don’t like it,” he says.

“I liked it just fine last year. I thought last year was perfect.”

“No changes? No building on our successes and learning from our failures?”

“We didn’t have any failures.”

“Just way too much yellow squash.”

“Okay. Let’s take out half the yellow squash.”

“But keep the corn?”

“Yes…Just like last year,” Alice says, slowly and carefully.

“Because…?”

“Because I want it to be the same.”

The story’s poignancy also doesn’t come from Alice being a coyingly sweet Daddy’s girl. She’s strong-willed, often locking horns with her mom and sometimes losing her patience with Ellie, another bright creation of Harrington’s.

In fact, all the characters are memorable and fully dimensional, even those who appear in only one or two scenes. Though he’s not around for most of the book, Matt’s presence looms large. Angie, Alice’s mom, struggles with parental duties after he leaves but she didn’t sign up to do it alone. They all feel like real people, and that’s what resonated the most. This may be fiction but we know there are real military families like Alice’s everywhere, striving to go on with life after their loved ones go off to war despite feeling as if they’d been hit by emotional IEDs.

Nerd verdict: Deeply moving Bliss

Buy this from Amazon| B&N| Indie Bookstores

Share

You Might Also Like...

20 Comments

  • Reply
    le0pard13
    June 16, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Sounds like a great novel, Elyse. Thanks for the review.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      June 16, 2011 at 12:14 pm

      One of the best I’ve read this year, le0.

      • Reply
        le0pard13
        June 16, 2011 at 12:57 pm

        I see Brilliance Audio did the audiobook for this one. You can hear a sample of Kate Rudd’s narration on Audible’s web page of the novel.

        • Reply
          Pop Culture Nerd
          June 16, 2011 at 1:31 pm

          Thanks for that, le0. Wish the sample were longer, because that’s just the prologue. I wanted it to at least get to the scenes Alice has with her dad while he’s preparing to go away, but I guess that’s how they get customers to buy—leave them wanting more.

  • Reply
    jenn aka the picky girl
    June 16, 2011 at 10:04 am

    Gotta admit – I’m such a cover judger, and when I saw this one, I thought “No way Elise liked this.” With such glowing praise I definitely added it.

    Thanks for making me want to read a book I may have passed by otherwise.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      June 16, 2011 at 12:18 pm

      Thank YOU for giving me in that much credence. Your cover-judging made me chuckle. It’s nice to hear I can surprise people.

  • Reply
    Lauren
    June 16, 2011 at 11:03 am

    I put this one in my Amazon shopping cart “saved for later” section as soon as you mentioned it on Twitter and this review makes me want to read it even more. Anything good enough to make Nails D-Mc cry has to go on the TBR list. Thanks for the review!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      June 16, 2011 at 12:43 pm

      I’m appropriating Nails DMC as my new nickname! I’m now ready to put out a rap album.

      Mr. PCN read this book after he saw my reaction to it. After he finished, I wanted to discuss it but he said, “I can’t talk about it right now. I need a moment.” Translation: He didn’t want me to see him cry!

      • Reply
        Lauren
        June 16, 2011 at 12:45 pm

        You can have it, but I get royalties from the T-shirts, action figures and other merchandising.

        Damn it, all these comments and PPCN getting all verklempt are making me want to go buy the hardcover. Can’t wait to read it, thanks for passing along the word.

        xoxo

        • Reply
          Pop Culture Nerd
          June 16, 2011 at 1:12 pm

          Forgot to mention that on page 3 is your favorite word: bailiwick. That is all.

          • Reply
            Lauren
            June 16, 2011 at 1:25 pm

            You know me too well. I do love a good bailiwick.

      • Reply
        Paulette Feeney
        June 16, 2011 at 6:11 pm

        I want to see him cry.

  • Reply
    Reader#9
    June 16, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    If you are saying you were wrecked by this read, then I know I’m in for one of those reluctant, but necessary reads. We all need a good cry from time to time no matter how much we try not to. Guess I’ll be sniffling on my couch soon. lol, uh, sniff!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      June 16, 2011 at 12:46 pm

      Don’t be reluctant. It’s a beautiful read. It goes pretty fast, too.

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    June 16, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    This one has bypassed The List, PCN, and gone straight into the Obtain Now category. I figure my dry eyes could well do with a prolific watering.

    • Reply
      Paulette Feeney
      June 16, 2011 at 6:06 pm

      I am with you, Shell! Straight to “Giveittomenow” category…

      • Reply
        Pop Culture Nerd
        June 16, 2011 at 9:11 pm

        Shell and Paulette—I heartily endorse your Obtain Now policy for this book. And Shell, it would definitely keep your eyes lubricated!

  • Reply
    Paulette Feeney
    June 16, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Nails DMC! You’re killing me. I do not have time to aquire this book! My house looks like the scene of a home invasion as I am frantically trying to pack! I cannot wait to read this and discuss further.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      June 16, 2011 at 9:13 pm

      I’d love to discuss it with you, especially since you have military members in the family. When are you leaving? Did you receive the signed copy of THE DEVIL SHE KNOWS?

      • Reply
        Paulette
        June 17, 2011 at 8:48 am

        I am leaving early tomorrow morning…It wil be Monday morning before I get to Tanzania! YES…the book arrived yesterday. Asante sana (practicing my Swahili so perhaps this time I will not order baboon instead of tomatoes in omelet). The book had a lovely inscription.

Leave a Reply to Paulette Feeney Cancel Reply