Reviewed by Colleen Turner

Alice Bliss is in many ways a typical fifteen year old: she argues with her mother, tries hard to take care of her little, precocious sister and is a daddy’s girl of the highest caliber. She has spent her life following her father around, learning how to garden, building things in his workshop and going with him on roofing jobs. He has also taught her to be meticulous, gracious and to never let her fears get the best of her. She loves her father beyond all others and has always tried hard to make him proud.

When Matt Bliss decides to enlist in the military, his family is devastated. Alice’s mother tries to convince him that this was not part of the plan but has to relent when he makes up his mind that this is something he needs to do. Matt works hard to instill in Alice and her sister, Ellie, all the life lessons he can before shipping out to Iraq, just in case they are needed. He tries hard to convince everyone that he will be home before they know it but also needs to make sure that they will be okay no matter what.

When he leaves, a huge hole opens up in the Bliss family. The glue that so often bound them together and mediated when they began to unravel has been taken away and no one knows quite what to do. As Alice tries hard to pick up the slack of chores, cooking and keeping Ellie from falling apart, she isn’t quite sure what to do with her feelings of loss, anger and emptiness. She begins to run track which seems, for a fraction of the time, to clear her mind and make her feel normal. When her feet stop running, though, the pain floods in.

While Matt is away Alice continues to bloom into her own, fighting it tooth and nail and waiting for her father to come home and stop missing out. She learns to drive and begins the tenuous steps of first love. She wants desperately to share all of this with her father but the letters and phone calls are becoming few and far between and she is left to navigate her newly developing world by the good sense her father gave her and his whispered voice in her head. She wants to be strong for Matt and help hold the family together so when he gets home everything – her mother and sister, his workshop, their garden – is as he left it. Can she hold her family, and herself, together until and if that happens?

Warning: do not read Alice Bliss without tissues! It has been awhile since a book moved me to tears, but here I am. Alice Bliss is so tender and such a raw story of growing up amidst war that I have a new appreciation for the loved ones left behind. With all the awkwardness that being a teenager entails, this heaped on top seems too much for anyone to bear. But strong, smart, brave Alice Bliss is a testament to how to move through the pain, the loss and the sadness when the one you love most isn’t there.

Rating: 4.5/5

Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son and pet fish. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Pamela Dorman Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.