Everyone knows Alice slept with two guys at one party. When Healy High star quarterback Brandon Fitzsimmons dies in a car crash, it was because he was sexting with Alice. Ask anybody. Rumor has it Alice Franklin is a slut. It's written all over the "slut stall" in the girls' bathroom: "Alice had sex in exchange for math test answers" and "Alice got an abortion last semester." After Brandon dies, the rumors start to spiral out of control. In this remarkable debut novel, four Healy High students tell all they "know" about Alice-and in doing so reveal their own secrets and motivations, painting a raw look at the realities of teen life. But in this novel from Jennifer Mathieu, exactly what is the truth about Alice? In the end there's only one person to ask: Alice herself.
* Read for the 2017 Anti-Bully Readathon week: November 13th-19th
High schooler Alice Franklin is being targeted & blamed for the death of fellow student and star quarterback Brandon Fitzsimmons. Through the technique of alternating POVs, author Jennifer Mathieu gives the reader multiple perspectives of that one fateful night when Fitzsimmons was killed in a car crash after leaving a party at the house of popular girl Elaine O'Shea.
Four important characters step forward and tell their version of events: Elaine O'Shea, party host; Josh Waverly, in the car with Brandon when it crashed; Kurt Morelli, Brandon's next door neighbor who's just a little bit infatuated with Alice; Kelsie Sanders, former best friend of Alice who has recently ditched her (basically) to try to win a place in the clique of popular peoples. Then there's Alice herself who has some choice words for her rebuttal.
- >> Elaine: Still ticked at Alice over guy drama from forever ago, enraged all over again when Elaine's on / off guy Brandon starts paying attention to Alice. Immediately after Brandon's death, has no problem feeding into the slut-shaming of Alice, spreading it around. Also, Elaine claims "Alice sounds like a total grandma name" anyway... Okay, I see you, ELAINE.
- >> Kelsie: Admits to generally being a follower rather than an original kind of person, so she pretty much throws her friend under the bus to gain points with the cool kids, also fueled by old beef with Alice! Uses drama of Alice to hide her own secrets she doesn't want surfacing.
- >> Josh: Claims that Alice was blowing up Brandon's phone while Brandon & Josh were in the car and that's what ended up causing the crash... also, Josh may have some confusing homoerotic feelings about Brandon he doesn't want others to pick up on?
- >> Kurt: genius level nerd, orphaned, living with grandmother next door to Brandon's house... just a bit in love with Alice but too shy to admit it... being one who understands what it feels like to be socially ostracized, Kurt turns out to be the ONE person who gives Alice the benefit of a doubt and still treats her like a human. Brains and Heart in this guy!
"Oh Kurt, I love it. But I didn't get you anything. You're helping me. I should have bought you something. You gave me a first edition of The Outsiders and all I gave you was one of my mom's shitty beers." (Alice)
"It's okay.. This beer isn't so shitty." :-)
So, in this small town of Healy, Texas you can imagine how it doesn't take long for the rumors -- starting with the one about Alice having a three way at Elaine's party, one of the rumored participants being the Healy's beloved football star, Brandon -- to quickly spiral out of control. The adults themselves, who you'd think ought to know better, get in on the dirt flinging on this poor girl's rep!
Now, when I say "poor girl", Alice doesn't have a snowy white record to begin with... she'll tell you herself what all she actually had a hand in... and some of it is solidly poor choices that end up hurting people... but deserving of the mess she's eventually swirled up in herself? Not so sure it's a fair distribution of karma here. Former bestie Kelsie, the one time she decides to be a leader, uses her new found boldness to write defamatory remarks about Alice on bathroom stalls, which encourages other girls to jump in and get competitive with just how viciously they can talk about a girl they barely know.
I was not at all impressed with Kelsie in the beginning, my reader mind pretty quickly deeming her the petty weakling who needed to find her backbone already. While that opinion stayed with me in some form til the story's close, I did end up cutting her a TINY bit of slack after she reveals some of the darker portions of her backstory and her motives for turning on Alice. While her actions are still disappointing, to say the least, she at least finds a point where she has the classic "I'm becoming what I hate" realization. As she puts it, "All this just to sit at the good table in cafeteria." I know, right?!
While the plot itself was not the most riveting for me (I personally prefer The S Word by Chelsea Pitcher), I do applaud Mathieu for at least illustrating the high school experience in a relatively realistic way. So often I come across YA books that sound absolutely nothing like my HS days, leaving me to wonder, "Seriously? Is this what it's like now? I remember a little melodrama but daaaang." At least here I found characters that did remind me of people I grew up with -- I knew girls like Kelsie, and certainly Elaine, and I most definitely recall the jocks talking smack over cans of Natty Light like Josh & Brandon do here! I also liked how the characters, in their own time, little by little, come to the realization that their anger towards Alice, their bullying of her, is likely just a projection of pain elsewhere in their lives. Pretty profound for teens to realize that, as I come across adults daily who aren't on that level of awareness yet, and I'm glad to see it written in this novel so that YA readers everywhere can ponder on that idea themselves.