The Truth About Alice deals deftly with teenage sexuality and identity in a small Texas town.
Everyone in Healy, Texas knows that slutty Alice Franklin slept with two guys in the same night (I’m just old enough to shudder to think about high school rumors in the age of mass texting), and basically killed the star football player by sexting with him while he was trying to drive, and probably got an abortion afterwards. The novel moves between several high school students, all discussing what they know about Alice, and readers quickly discover that doesn’t quite add up to what everyone knows is true. More importantly, each narrator has their own secrets and motivations.
The story never becomes a morality tale or Afterschool Special. Instead, debut author Jennifer Mathieu takes on homosexuality, underage drinking, abortion, and eating disorders, all with compassion. She really shines in the complicated relationships between teenagers and their parents.
Alice is a likeable heroine, flawed and realistic. She’s susceptible to these rumors because she’s experimented with guys (although not, actually, sleeping with either of the guys in question) and had boyfriends before. Characters question Alice’s choices, and through her, their own choices, for a subtle story about peer pressure and teenage cruelty. Yet even the cruelest and most vengeful characters have sympathetic traits.
The story’s ending felts somewhat rushed, partly because we only get Alice’s POV at the very end, and also because — spoilers — after a novel of pitch-perfect teenage reactions and awkward interactions, Alice’s final realization that she’s not going to stay in small-town Texas forever felt somewhat underwhelming.
Overall, a sympathetic and realistic story of peer pressure, teenage relationships, and finally independence.