After bad experiences earlier this year with some other dark, sex-related YA contemporaries, I was honestly a little scared when I picked up “The Truth About Alice”. Other titles that had attempted something similar, particularly the April debut “Tease” (in which the main character left a very, very bad taste in my mouth, even after her “redemption”), left me feeling cold toward the subject matter – a girl is slut shamed for having sex, in this case sex with two boys at one party, a situation that is later used to blame her for one of the boy’s deaths. In this short little gem of a novel, we follow four viewpoints – Alice’s former best friend, the school mean girl, the dead boy’s best friend, and the school weirdo nerd.
We’re dropped into the story quickly and the initial facts are clear – Alice reportedly had sex with two boys at a classmate’s house party, and somehow Alice was responsible when one of those boys drove off the road and crashed. The story is told from an outsider’s perspective where nobody has the full story, forcing you into different heads to get more details from people who knew Alice in a variety of ways, but people who very clearly are not fully informed. As the story unfurls, and as we find more details out and revelations from characters, the story becomes very interesting, complex, and intense.
Except, like many books, I had some issues with it. The biggest issue was Alice herself.
I can understand the premise of this book, where a girl becomes a social pariah after teenage boys take advantage of a situation with her. We have Alice, a B-level popular girl, versus the boy who is the Golden God of their school. We all know who wins the he said, she said battle when the boy claims something that didn’t actually happen.
In a YA world where darkness has been unfairly criticized as being, well, too dark for young impressionable minds, I have to give debut author Mathieu credit for taking this book where she did. It doesn’t shy away from the sad realities of high school, full of lying, backstabbing, sex, drinking, and other vices that many parents pretend their children don’t know, and especially don’t actually participate in.
This is the type of story where there are unlikable characters around every corner, and while I did have one in particular that I hated (Alice’s former best friend, who threw Alice under the bus when she realized her popularity might be threatened), I came to understand their motives. Except for Alice. She was the character we were supposed to really come to know through the eyes of others, but her actions just rang false, like they were actions solely for the sake of the story and not how a real person like how she was described would act. That’s where the story threw me – I just didn’t buy Alice herself.
All in all, would I recommend this? Yes. This is definitely a book you should buy and then share with some teenagers (if you’re not one yourself) because it is a story that rings mostly true, and it’s a story that can impart some life lessons. “The Truth About Alice” might not be the best story ever on the subject of slut shaming, but it’s up there toward the top.