Alice Bliss

Alice Bliss Cover

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

 Cover

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

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  • Love, love, love this book! Beautifully written.

    Sarah

  • I laughed. I cried. Great book to share and discuss with friends.

    Lynn

  • Was drawn into the story quite quickly but wasn't as emotionally attached to the story or the characters as I had hoped I might be from reviews I had read. I think this is more young adult fiction if I am honest. I was a little disappointed.

    Nikki

  • I came to this novel with high expectations after reading four wonderful selections from the Summer Book Club. What could go wrong? And for the first 12 pages or so, no glimmer of doubt or ennui troubled this premise. Then the unthinkable happened. I wanted to put down the book; I did not want to turn the page. How could this be? There is no argument about the fine writing which lifts this novel above the dross and better. There is no doubt that the characters are realistic and the situation potentially poignant, but at no point did this novel tug at my heartstrings or engage me fully or make me care what happened to any of them...and this in a book about loss, love and death is deeply problematic. Other readers have and will have a different opinion, but I would judge this to be the 'damp squib' of the display thus far. To be fair,both professionals and reviewers from my own amateur provenance have seen something that I haven't:Sarah Blake speaks of Harrington bringing Alice fully to life whilst the 'Big Issue' called it a 'powerful coming of age story.' I felt distanced by it and I felt that I had heard much of it before; Alice read like an amalgam of many young protaganists but with the others, I heard their voices clearly whereas here, everything was muted. Given such a damning review stance, it must be demanded that I make a constructive critique. The best I can do is to say that such a novel deserved a first person narrative so that our empathy was engaged from the outset. That didn't mean that we would necessarily buy into all of Alice's behaviour but we would not have been able to turn away from her so easily. The story, the plotting, the narrative dynamic are all assured and the character delineation is exemplary. Many of you will love it, but for those who search for a young character who truly speaks to us then the more recent work of Sarah Winman or Catherine O' Flynn or the classic voice of Scout in 'To Kill A Mockingbird' or of the dead narrator in 'The Lovely Bones.' is where we will find the words to move us. Every bookclub is entitled to an error of judgement and , for me , this is Richard and Judy's 'also ran' of Summer 2012.

    Sandra

  • Alice Bliss is a 15-year-old American girl who tries to find her way after her beloved father goes off to war in Iraq. She is learning to manage a distant mother, a quirky family, a new romance, and an old friendship with her own compelling blend of sadness, humor, wisdom and love. I’ve read this book twice, and have opened it to random pages since then, and I continue to be moved and surprised by its elegance and depth.

    I’ve given this book as a gift to adults who love it. I’ve talked with a small group of U.A. 13- to 14-year old girls who have read it, and they were all enthralled by it. They felt Alice was very real to them; her struggles were ones they recognized and shared.

    In a broader sense, this book helps us understand American society today – what it is and what it could be. The book is really about what happens at home when the U.S. goes to war. There is a huge unspoken impact on the families of the soldiers sent off to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, ramifications that last forever. Most of us don’t want to think about this or even acknowledge it exists. Alice Bliss delves into this impact with compassion and brilliance.

    Beautifully written, complex real characters, this is a novel with a purpose.

    Liz

  • I enjoyed reading Alice Bliss so much I recommended it to my on-line book group. It generated lots of discussion, and ultimately - we all thought it was a strong , emotional read.

    There are some beautiful one-liners within the narrative which will stay with me for a long time.

    Jo

  • Matt Bliss is a reservist in the American army, and when he is called to fight in Iraq, he tries to prepare his family for the possibility of life without him. Alice Bliss is fifteen; she idolises her father, loves dancing with him, and plans their garden with him, and with great awareness she tries to keep from imagining a life without him. With wisdom beyond her years, Alice tries to keep her family together without the presence of the father she adores.

    The story begins rather slowly, we get to know Alice and her family, we laugh with them, and ultimately we cry with them. There are some lovely characters interspersed within the story, Gram, Henry and Uncle Eddie, all add richness to the text, and help lighten the gloom. When the family get the news that Matt is missing in action, the story really begins to evolve into a perceptive analysis of love and loss.

    Overall, I thought that the story was really nicely written, as with quiet dignity Laura Harrington has managed to explore the sensitive topic of military loss in a tender and realistic way. There are some beautiful one-liners within the narrative which will stay with me for a long time.

    I enjoyed reading it and will recommend it to my friends.

    Jo

  • What a lovely story. We think all the time about the soldiers fighting overseas and out hearts go out to them but I have never really thought how the children cope with this issue and this book really brought it to light. What a beautiful relationship Alice had with her father and the memories she carries of all the thinks they have done together. These are very rare is our busy world today.

    Debbie

  • Although a very easy read I have to agree with the other review and say that whilst the situations and events featured in the book are unfortunately realistic and heartbreaking, I did not feel the usual emotional connection and pull towards the characters I usually feel and hence did I not fully enjoy. I found the 3rd person narrative contributed to this and sometimes took away the empathy I had expected to develop for Alice. The story was too predicatable and I think other strands of the story could have been further explored, such as Alice's growing fondness of Henry. I did finish the book but have to say overall it was a dissappointing read - especially for summer!

    Carla

  • Loved it!!! On the "Sob" scale it's up there with Henry's Sisters Thoroughly recommend it

    Carolyn

  • If a novel could have a heartbeat, Alice Bliss would have one. If an author could capture a slice of America's soul, Laura Harrington succeeded in doing so!

    Alice Bliss is the story of Alice, a fifteen-year-old girl faced with the absence of her father who, as a member of the New York National Guard, is sent to Iraq. Laura Harrington does an exceptional job bringing Alice Bliss to life, along with the supporting characters, that you will find yourself completely enthralled in her story. Each sentence leads the reader to form images and sounds and emotions and tastes and smells that jump right off the page. It's no wonder, Alice Bliss has received so many awards. This novel is nothing short of a gift, a blessing to those who walk in Alice Bliss's shoes every day, but find it difficult to explain to others the emotions created by the absence of a family member who serves our nation. It also serves as a comfort to those who have experienced loss and provides hope when the world seems to dim. Read Alice Bliss and see how poignant, powerful, stunning, and alive a novel can be. Pick it up, read it, share it, talk about it!

    Liza Wiemer

  • If a novel could have a heartbeat, Alice Bliss would have one. If an author could capture a slice of America's soul, Laura Harrington succeeded in doing so!

    Alice Bliss is the story of Alice, a fifteen-year-old faced with the absence of her father who, as a member of the New York National Guard, is sent to Iraq. Laura Harrington does an exceptional job bringing Alice Bliss to life along with the supporting characters, that you will find yourself completely enthralled in her story. Each sentence leads the reader to form images and sounds and emotions and tastes and smells that jump right off the page. It's no wonder, Alice Bliss has received so many awards. This novel is nothing short of a gift, a blessing to those who walk in Alice Bliss's shoes every day, but find it difficult to explain to others the emotions created by the absence of a family member who serves our nation. It also serves as a comfort to those who have experienced loss and provides hope when the world seems to dim. Read Alice Bliss and see how poignant, powerful, stunning, and alive a novel can be. Pick it up, read it, share it, talk about it!

    Brilliant, Laura. Congratulations and thank you.

    Liza Wiemer

  • A lovely book. Beautifully written and very sad. It tears at the heartstrings. I loved Alice but got very frustrated with her mother. Where was she when her daughters needed her and how unfair to put so much of the load on Alice who is already dealing with the difficulties of becoming an adult on top of missing her father who she adored. I loved Gram, Henry and Uncle Eddie though and Ellie was a cutie. The author certainly painted pictures in my head.

    Kate

  • This was my first of the summer read books. I really enjoyed it.It is beautifully written in a thought provoking way. Parts are sad enough and realistic enough to have brought tears to my eyes. Really engaging and hard to put down

    Julie

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