Harrington creates an incredibly poignant story; grief and loss are palpable.

Posted on October 11, 2011 by 

ALAN’s Picks is a monthly book review column that is compiled and edited by Dr. Pam B. Cole of Kennesaw State University.

Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington
Viking/Penguin, 2011, 306 pp., $25.95
ISBN: 987-0-670-02278-6

Fifteen-year-old Alice Bliss has a treasure many teens desire but don’t often experience: a close, supportive relationship with her dad. Matt Bliss, formerly an engineer, but now carpenter/craftsman, coaches little league baseball and utilizes his skills as a farm team pitcher. Alice and Matt share gardening, his workshop, and life lessons. This special bond causes Alice incredible pain, though, when her father’s Army Reserve unit is called up. After only six weeks, rather than the usual six-month training period, Matt is deployed to Iraq. From the day Alice, her eight-year-old sister, and their mom drive Matt to Fort Dix, Alice’s life becomes a blur. She wears her dad’s shirt for weeks until her mother sneaks it into the trash; she lives on memories and often hears her dad’s words of encouragement. Alice and her mother struggle to connect, but they frequently end up fighting; both hold the pain of Matt’s absence welled inside. Younger sister, Ellie; Uncle Eddie, and Gram provide what support they can, but ultimately the family faces a stark reality: Matt will not be coming home alive.

Harrington creates an incredibly poignant story; grief and loss are palpable. Harrington’s use of present tense brings the characters alive. Additionally, her portrayal of what families face when a loved one is deployed makes the novel appealing for males and females, adults and teens, alike. Alice is a particularly believable teen, who falls in love, struggles to fit in, wants to be cared for, but rejects false affection. She also lives in a universe of constant anxiety: teachers cannot understand her sudden inability to concentrate, and sometimes she has to “mother” her mother.

Reviewed by Mary Warner, San Jose, CA