Monday, June 18, 2012

Review: Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington

The war in Iraq has been going on for so many years now that it can be very easy to forget that we are still sending soldiers over there, soldiers who leave family and loved ones at home worried about their safety and just trying to go on with daily life as best they can in the face of an uncertain future. There are tv shows capturing the deeply emotional moments of a returning soldier surprising his child, parent, wife, etc. but there's very little media coverage of these same loved ones' lives while that soldier was half way across the world. Laura Harrington has captured what it means for families and particularly children old enough to understand the risks and ramifications of a soldier father (or mother) in her novel Alice Bliss.

Teenaged Alice is a daddy's girl, her uncomplicated relationship with him a direct counterpoint to her difficult relationship with her mother. She's a tomboy who shares her father's interests and she is crushed when she learns that he is being sent to Iraq. She is angry and devastated and unsure just exactly how she can go forward in life without her father right there with her. But go on she does, changing and maturing, fighting with her mother, trying new things, and cherishing the brief phone calls and longer letters from her dad. She wants everything to stay the same for him when he comes home but life doesn't stand still. Alice starts running on the track team, learns to drive, goes to her first dance, all without her father.

This novel is loaded with emotions right on the edge. Alice narrates the story and she is a typical teenager, vulnerable and defensive, but with added weight. Harrington has drawn her characters completely realistically. The tension and relationship between Alice and her mother Angie rings true at every moment of the narrative. And her interactions with her best friend and her younger sister are equally real and authentic. Readers will be touched by this young girl struggling to come of age and to grow into herself even as she doesn't want life to change so it is still recognizable to her father. Being a teenager is hard no matter how you slice it but when your father, the family's north star, is away fighting a war no one wants to talk about, it is that much more difficult, that much more raw, that much more emotional. And this book is nothing if not highly emotional. You'll feel for the Bliss family as they face fear and the implacability of the military at war. And even though the climax of the novel is not at all unexpected, Harrington has written an honest and heartwrenching look at what happens to the families at home that will keep readers engrossed until the last page.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.


  1. I liked this book as well - it was one of my 2011 Favorites.

  2. Hi, Kristen,
    Thank you so much for this smart, insightful review. I am always so glad to meet a reader who resonates with Alice's coming of age story and also with the deeper story of the war and the many costs we are unaware of.
    Right now, Alice Bliss is a Richard and Judy Book Club Pick in the UK. They welcome reader comments on their site. I mention this in case you'd like to share your review there:
    Thanks again.


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