Laura Harrington'This story of friendship, love, grief and growing up will yank on the heartstrings. And then some'
Alice Bliss is fifteen. She's smart, funny, and clever. Not afraid to stand up for the things she believes in. She also idolizes her father, and when he leaves home to fight a war she doesn't believe in, Alice is distraught. She and her mother negotiate his absence as best they can waiting impatiently for his letters, throwing themselves into school and work respectively, bickering intermittently and, in Alice's case, falling for the boy next door but then they're told that he's missing in action and have to face up to the fact that he may never return.
'A powerful coming-of-age story of love, family and grief' Big Issue
'I put down this book and thought, there is no one like this girl, so fully has Harrington brought a new Alice to life' Sarah Blake, bestselling author of The Postmistress
'Compassionate and intelligent ...strong storytelling and a rich emotional core' Jenny Downham, author of Before I Die.
WHSmith Edition now contains Exclusive Bonus material including...
Author Q & A
Reading Group Questions
The inspiration behind Alice Bliss
Judy: What a delicate, beautifully-written story this is – poignant, uplifting, and, at times, heartbreaking. It provoked tears and smiles from both of us.
Alice Bliss is fifteen years old. She lives in a small seaside town close to New York with her eight-year-old sister, Ellie, their beautiful mother, Angie, and father Matt, who is a carpenter.
He is also a member of the United States army reserve.
One day Matt gets the letter his family have been quietly dreading. He has been called up as part of America’s ‘surge’ in Iraq and will not see his family for a year.
Laura Harrington handles the inevitable mood swings that sweep over Matt’s wife and daughters as he prepares to leave them and go into real danger, with immense skill and compassion. Angie switches from anger (how could a loving husband and father volunteer to leave his young family for so long and at such risk?) to a kind of grief and paralysing fear. We see all of this through Alice’s adolescent eyes - and of course, she has her own anxieties to cope with.
The day arrives when Matt must board the army bus that will take him away. Impulsively he takes off his watch and wordlessly hands it to his eldest daughter. The wrench she feels as he disappears from her sight is almost too painful for words. But Laura Harrington finds them. In fact, this debut novelist never puts a foot wrong.
Richard: Alice Bliss is intelligent, reflective, and stoic. She has to be. Her mother pretty much goes to pieces for a while after Matt leaves and it is Alice who picks up the dropped ball, cooking for the diminished family, shopping, and taking care of the washing. All except one item. Her father’s favourite shirt, which she wears for weeks, refusing to launder it, and despairing as the ‘aroma of dad’ slowly fades.
There are distractions. Henry, the boy next door, for one. Alice and he have been ‘play-dates’ since they were toddlers; now their well-worn friendship seems to be mutating into something deeper. This first brush with romance for both is charmingly and believably described.
In fact believability lies at the heart of this book; at times the effect is as if we are reading a teenage girl’s private diary; her frustration with her mother’s inadequacies, her little sister’s glorious, infuriating stroppiness, and Alice’s growing feelings for Henry.
Matt communicates with the women in his life mostly by letter. Phone calls from Falluja are infrequent and usually on a crackling line. But the letters to and from Iraq crackle in a different way entirely – they are full of love, and hope, and loss.
The inevitable happens. One day an army officer and chaplain come to Alice’s house. Matt has been wounded in a firefight with insurgents and taken captive. The army has no idea where he is, or even if he has survived his wounds.
Somehow, Alice, Ellie and their mother keep going. They realise they have no alternative. And when the end of this bittersweet, charming story spools out, you will find – as we both did - that the Bliss family, all four of them, have entered your hearts.
A stunning debut novel.
Reviews & Comments
Richard and Judy's posts
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01.04.2011 - Eloise
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22.03.2011 - New books to come and Dancing on Ice...
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... Richard blogs on another busy week. Read more