by Laura Harrington
Pamela Dorman Books (Viking) – June 2011
320 pages; $25.95
“Does everyone have a secret life, she wonders? Is everyone carrying an impossible, unbearable secret?” -Alice Bliss
The Bliss family is your typical American family. Mom, Dad and two daughters; Alice 15, and Ellie, a precocious 8, living in upstate New York. The story begins when the family learns that Matt Bliss, a New York Army Reservist, is being called to active duty to fight in Iraq. Emotions and fear understandably take hold, and the reader observers each family member deal with the situation in their unique way.
Once Matt ships off, the family tries to maintain some sense of normality. But, as hard as they try, the Bliss family finds themselves just going through the daily motions of life. School, work, and family/social life becomes infected with the stain of Matt’s absence. Communication is limited and mostly in the form of letters, that become ever more precious, to each family member, as time begins to draw on. Until the letters and calls stop.
“She opens the door to a soldier in his twenties who immediately takes off his hat, revealing an extremely new haircut. He is flanked by another soldier twice his size. “I’m Sergeant Walker Ames. This is Army Chaplain McMurphy.”…He is eerily, almost creepily calm Alice thinks, as her mind races to take in all the possibilities of what his presence on her front stoop mean.”
In the midst of this tumultuous time the book’s main character, Alice, is at that awkward stage of beginning to grow into herself. Author Laura Harrington beautifully captures that delicate balance between young womanhood and the waning child with Alice. From discovering her body, learning to drive, love, and loss Alice’s experience will surely touch and move every reader.
“Alice lifts her head and opens her eyes and looks at her father. Now she can’t get enough of looking at him. He is not the same; he is not the same at all. But what there is, what there still is, right here in front of her, close enough to touch, is this broken body, this man, this soldier. Her father. Hers.”
The beauty in Alice Bliss is Harrington’s ability to create a character that transcends the page and enters the reader’s heart. Keep the tissues nearby, but also know that this is a story of hope. Alice Bliss is one of those rare gems of a read that will remain with the reader for a long long time to come.
For more information on Alice Bliss, please visit the publisher’s website by clicking HERE.