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Alice Bliss

June 6, 2011

Move over, Scout. Meet smart, plucky, funny Alice Bliss. Her dad has gone to Iraq and she is left home with her mom and little sister and somehow has to go on living. She has her first kiss, learns to drive, goes to dances, plants a vegetable garden — all while her dad is fighting in the war. She is also the title character in Laura Harrington’s new novel, Alice Bliss, a book I read cover to cover (really) snuffling and laughing and itching for everyone I know to read it so we can talk about it. I loved this book the way I loved To Kill A Mockingbird, which is one of the first books I remember agreeing with a teacher about. We both liked it– every word of it — a miracle, since usually, the books we were assigned in school were books I could not finish, or which bored me, or which depressed me. You know the ones: A Separate Peace, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, Lord Jim, Huck Finn (yes, I admit it — I did not like it), things by Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut. The only excuse I have is that not one of these very fine books had much to do with being a 13/14/ or 15 year old girl and I did not have enough imagination,or, more accurately, I had not yet cultivated and strengthened my imagination enough to make the jump into being Huck or a boarding school boy. I did sort of like Lord of the Flies, if one can like Lord of the Flies, but only because it reminded me of my school — the hatred and cruelty that ruled the hallways. And I, of course, was Piggy. Looking back, I don’t think it is a coincidence that all of these books were written by men about boys. What I wish is that Alice Bliss was around then. This is the sort of book that would have helped me understand myself more and understand my world more fully, just as it did when I read it last month. I think this is because the author lets us inside the heads of the characters, no matter how old they are, or what sex they are. This means the 48 year old reader is reminded of being 14 and the 14 year old reader is allowed a glimpse into the lives of the middle aged and elderly. And this is why I think this book is going to be a classic, assigned in schools, read in book clubs and colleges and devoured by middle aged men, women, girls, boys — in the same way that To Kill A Mockingbird appeals to all ages, all sexes. I urge all of you to read this book, give it to your friends. Buy it for Father’s Day. Because, although the title character is a girl, struggling to come of age, the novel is also about motherhood, fatherhood, being a friend, being a grandmother, an uncle — the list could go on and on. I guess the book is about all of these things, not to mention the tragedy of war.

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