The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.
Alice Franklin is rumored to have slept with two boys at the same party. One of the boys, Brandon Fitzsimmons — star quarterback and virtual celebrity of their small town — dies in a car accident two weeks later.
This story is told in first person by four different teenagers: Elaine, the most popular girl in school, who had an on-again, off-again relationship with Brandon; Kelsie, Alice Franklin’s best friend; Josh, Brandon’s best friend; and Kurt, the ultra-nerd, who has loved Alice for much of his life.
Elaine tells how Alice slept with Brandon and another boy at a party in her house. The once popular Alice was immediately labeled a slut and was shunned by almost everyone. When it then became known that the reason Brandon lost control of his car was because Alice sent him lurid texts, everyone in their small town shuns her. Although Elaine was on good terms with Alice before the party, she had never really forgiven her for messing around with Brandon at a dance when the three of them were in middle school.
Kelsie, Alice’s best friend, was home sick the night of Elaine’s party. Alice called her the next day asking if Kelsie had heard any rumors. Kelsie lies and says she had only received one text about it. Alice denies sleeping with Brandon or his friend Tommy. She doesn’t understand why Brandon started the rumor.
Kelsie tries to comfort her friend, but inside, she is unsure whom she should believe. She knows Alice has slept with boys in the past. Kelsie also has a history with Tommy that no one else knows about. Kelsie admits to panicking when she heard the rumors. She begins to distance herself from Alice so her own popularity will not become tainted by her friend’s reputation.
Josh, who survives the accident that killed Brandon, told the police that they had had a few beers before Brandon’s mother asked them to run an errand to the store. He also admits that Brandon was distracted by his phone. He later tells Brandon’s mother that Alice was texting Brandon lurid messages. He admits to putting the idea of sleeping with Alice in Brandon’s head the day of Elaine’s party. He wonders if he had not brought her up, whether his best friend would still be alive.
Kurt is the high school’s resident genius and next-door-neighbor to Brandon. He has lived with his grandmother since his parents were killed in an accident when he was 5. Kurt has loved Alice for most of that time, but she barely notices he exists.
Although considered a geek with no friends, Brandon always treated him kindly and would sometimes ask him over to drink beer on his roof. During one such talk, Brandon admits that he started the rumor about Alice because he was angry that she would not sleep with him. Kurt wishes he had more leverage within the school so if he told the truth, people would believe him.
Kelsie explains how Alice made her angry over the summer of their sophomore year when she lied about performing oral sex on one of the lifeguards at the town pool. Since that time, Kelsie did not quite trust Alice to tell the truth. As the rumors about Alice continue to swell, Kelsie stops answering her friend’s texts and phone calls.
Kelsie joins Elaine and her crowd. In order to get in good with the popular girls, Kelsie lies and says she saw Alice go into an abortion clinic. She then writes a derogatory lie about Alice in permanent marker on the bathroom wall. Elaine and the others girls follow her example, and soon the stall is covered with lies and innuendos about Alice.
Kurt overhears a math teacher tell Alice that she needs to get her grades up or she will fail his class. When the teacher does not suggest that he can tutor her, Kurt writes a note offering his help and slips it in her locker. She takes him up on his offer. Over the course of several months, their relationship deepens into friendship. Kurt looks for an opportunity to tell Alice that he knows the truth, but it never seems to be the right time. When he finally tells her what he knows, she gets angry and stops speaking to him.
Kelsie tells about her ultraconservative religious mother who forces her to attend church and protest abortion clinics. She then admits how at the end of summer her sophomore year, she had a huge crush on Tommy, the other boy who supposedly slept with Alice. Shortly before he left for college, Tommy asked Kelsie to go for a ride with him. He took her to his house, and she lost her virginity to him. Although she only had sex the one time, Kelsie got pregnant. Her mother took her to a clinic and made her abort the baby. Afterward, her mother would still go protest the clinic but never made Kelsie go again. Kelsie still thinks about the baby and, as the time approaches when she would have given birth, she wonders whether she would have had a boy or a girl.
Josh describes the night after Elaine’s party and how he drove Brandon to his house and put him to sleep on his bedroom floor. He tells about staring at Brandon’s sleeping form and reaching out to touch his hair. Worried that Brandon might wake up, Josh quickly stopped and went to sleep in his bed. He finally admits to lying about Alice sending Brandon texts. In actuality, Brandon had wanted to text Alice to see if they could hook up some time. Jealous, Josh grabbed his phone away. It was his actions that caused Brandon to crash the car.
As the end of the school year approaches, Elaine happens to meet Alice in a beauty salon. After thinking about everything that has happened, Elaine decides that maybe she has been too hard on Alice. After all, Elaine knows Brandon was no saint. She tries to start a conversation with Alice, but Alice barely answers her. Elaine then tells her she can start coming by her lunch table again.
Elaine sees it as an opportunity for Alice to lose her pariah status, but she is not sure Alice will accept her offer of tentative friendship again. Elaine asks about Kurt, and Alice lets her know that Kurt is no longer her friend, if he ever was. Elaine, in a rare moment of clarity, tells Alice that of course Kurt must have been her friend. He was the only person that would talk to her the whole school year.
The last chapter is written from Alice’s perspective. She is walking to Kurt’s house after leaving a note in his locker apologizing for not trusting him. The note said she would come to his house that night, and if he forgave her, he could let her in. If he did not, he should not answer the door. When Alice knocks, Kurt answers. Alice realizes that although she did not know when it happened, she has fallen in love with Kurt. And, for the first time in a year, she knows she has a person she can trust.
The one character in the story with faith is portrayed as a hypocrite. Kelsie’s mother, who converted to Christianity later in life, protests abortion clinics and has bookshelves of religious books. Kelsie’s mother was living with her boyfriend when she got pregnant with Kelsie. She moved back home when her boyfriend did not want to marry her. She started going to church and praying, and her boyfriend agreed to marry her.
Kelsie wonders how sincere her father’s faith is when she sees him fall asleep in church. When Kelsie admits to being pregnant, her mother is the one to force her to have an abortion and then never talks to her daughter about it. When Alice first comes over to Kelsie’s house, she does not make fun of the mother’s faith, but admits to believing in God.
The nurse at the abortion clinic wears a cross necklace. Kurt talks about how his grandmother has probably heard about Alice’s reputation at one of her prayer meetings, but never said anything bad about her to him. He buys Alice a present for Christmas and they share a Christmas pizza.
Josh compares Brandon to a god. He was a god of football, the school and the town. Josh does not believe there is a heaven. He cannot understand how people can have an afterlife, but not animals. If there is a heaven, he does not believe he will get in because of how he caused the accident that killed Brandon. After her abortion, Kelsie wonders if God exists.
Each of the characters in this story has dysfunctional parents except Kurt. His grandmother is kind and caring. Josh’s and Brandon’s parents have no control over their children’s drinking or sex lives. Brandon boasts about having sex with whomever he wants, whenever he wants. He and Josh drink beer several times out on his roof or in his bedroom, and his mother does not care.
Kelsie’s mother talks about her faith and reads a lot of books about Jesus but does not seem to think twice about forcing her daughter to have an abortion. Alice’s mother leaves her alone for weeks at a time while she goes off with various men. Sometimes her mother forgets to pay the bills, so Alice is left without electricity.
Elaine’s mother forces her to attend Weight Watchers meetings with her even though Elaine likes her appearance. Elaine is constantly reminded to eat diet food. Not one teacher or administrator defends Alice or makes an attempt to stop students from harassing her.
God’s name is used in vain with oh my and honest to. Jesus’ name is spoken in vain, also, and the f-word* is used. H—, d–n, s—, a–, a–hole, p—y and b–tard are used. Other objectionable words include d–k, tits, boobs p— and skank.
Brandon is killed in a car accident that puts Josh in the hospital. Josh does not describe the accident in detail, except to say that he bit his tongue so hard blood filled his mouth.
As the entire novel centers around the rumor about Alice, sex plays a central role in the story. Each of the characters talks about kissing other people or fantasizes about kissing other people. Elaine reveals that she slept with Brandon several times. Josh shares how Brandon bragged about the different girls he slept with and the differences between them. Brandon tells Josh that he should get together with a certain girl at Elaine’s party because she gets wet every time he walks by her. Josh admits he lost his virginity at 15 with a girl at the beach while on vacation with his parents.
Kelsie shares that Alice told her she lost her virginity freshmen year. Alice also performed oral sex on one of the lifeguards at the town pool. A boy sprays whipped cream on his bare chest in the shape of a penis. Brandon sent the text that he and Tommy banged Alice upstairs during Elaine’s party. It seems the entire student body of the high school, except for Kurt, writes a sexual remark about Alice on the bathroom wall. They include lies about her giving hundreds of blowjobs, of having sex with Santa Claus and other crude comments. Kelsie describes losing her virginity with Tommy.
Although Josh never admits it to himself in words, he is attracted to Brandon. He has studied his friend’s body in the locker room. He talks about how Brandon’s muscles feel as he helps his friend to lay down when he’s drunk. Josh runs his fingers through Brandon’s hair while he sleeps. He admits to being jealous that Brandon was thinking about having sex with Alice while they were driving in the car.
Alcohol: Underage characters drink beer. Kelsie says her father drinks beer and her mother does not approve. Brandon was drunk when he got into the accident.
Smoking: Elaine talks about people smoking at her party and how she took a drag off of someone’s cigarette.
Abortion: Kelsie and her mother regularly protest outside abortion clinics, holding up signs of aborted babies. After Kelsie gets pregnant, her mother never discusses the option of keeping the baby or giving it up for adoption. Instead, she drives Kelsie to the clinic and waits in the office while Kelsie has the procedure. Only a nurse offers her any comfort. Kelsie’s mother never mentions it again and still protests at the clinic.
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