Book Review: Alice Bliss
When I first started reading Alice Bliss, a novel by Laura Harrington about a teenage girl coping with her father’s deployment to Iraq, I had no intention of getting overly emotional. I’ve lived through my husband’s deployments. I’ve lived vicariously through friends’ deployments. I’ve read military spouse memoirs about deployments. This book can’t possibly present a perspective of life on the home front that I haven’t previously encountered in some way, shape, or form. Plus, it’s a novel. It’s not real. It’s just a story. Right?
Wrong. It’s not just a story. It did present a different perspective. And I did get overly emotional.
Alice Bliss is your typical 15-year-old girl, trying to figure out who she is and where she fits into this world. Suddenly, her father, a member of the New York National Guard, is deployed to Iraq, and Alice’s world turns upside down. She joins the track team and learns how to drive, while the fighting with her mother escalates and the possibility of love presents itself. These may be common rites of passage for teenage girls, but for Alice, they only make her miss her father even more.
Any military spouse who has waited on the home front during a deployment can relate to the emotions and events described throughout the book. We can empathize with the anticipation of letters in the mailbox and the ambivalence toward newspapers. We know all about the desire to wear our husbands’ clothes and the relief of hearing his voice on the phone. We’ve struggled with finding ways to talk to our kids about where their fathers are and avoiding thoughts about the what-ifs. We’ve wondered how to play the role of both a mother and a father and how to find the strength to carry on. We’ve experienced the fear of hearing that knock on the door and the desperate need to find a sense of normal.
I’ve gone through all of those emotions myself during my husband’s deployments. What I haven’t experienced is those emotions as a teenage girl. At 15-years-old, Alice Bliss is old enough to understand where her father is and the possibility that he might not come home, but not quite old enough to know how to cope with it. I couldn’t help but get emotionally involved as Alice tries to keep herself together, keep her family together, and work through her anger, fear, and confusion as she attempts to hold onto her father’s presence through his absence. I wondered how I would have reacted to my father going off to war when I was Alice’s age. And I wondered how my own young daughter would react if she were a teenager in Alice’s shoes and how I would be able to comfort her.
Although Alice Bliss is a fictional character, the story is an accurate representation of what so many military families have endured over the last ten years of war. Well-written and poignant, heartbreaking yet optimistic, the book gives the audience a behind-the-scenes look at life on the home front, a glimpse of the other side of war that the public eye rarely sees. I highly recommend this book. But I also recommend buying a box of tissues to go with it.