By Jennifer Mathieu
Available now from Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan)
THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE is told elliptically, through the eyes of her frenemy, her ex-best friend, a grieving golden boy, and a nerd with a crush. She gets the final word, but most of the words are gossip, innuendo, speculation, and outright lies.
It all started at a party hosted by Elaine. Shortly after the party everyone knew Alice had slept with two guys within one hour. Then one of those guys, Brandon, died in a car crash, and Josh blamed Alice for distracting him with texts. That's all it takes for Alice to end up totally ostracized, as a slut and killer. Kelsie, her former friend, thinks she can't trust that Alice didn't sleep with the guys like she says. Kurt wants to help, if he can gather the courage to speak to Alice.
The points of view weave together seamlessly, moving back and forth through time as they reveal their secrets, how they relate to Alice, and how they led to Alice being a scapegoat. Everyone has their pain and regrets. What happens to Alice is incredibly cruel, but debut author Jennifer Matheiu keeps it believable. Even more, she doesn't demonize anyone. Brandon might've been a heinous douche, but he still didn't deserve to die.
That being said, THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE is not a subtle book. The characters have depths, but right and wrong are clearly portrayed. It works though, because we do live in a world where girls are shamed for sex, whether they've had it or not. Alice's voice isn't heard until the end, and that's very intentional. Whether she had sex with Brandon or not isn't the question. The way her classmates and town treat her is.
THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE is loosely woven, driven more by character than incident. It is a very good thing the book is short, because there isn't much of a plot to speak of. But the emotional journey is very cathartic and hopeful. This is a stunning debut, and I look forward to Mathieu's sophomore novel.