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Library Journal Review
At 14, Alice Bliss enjoys a close relationship with her father, Matt, and doesn't relate well to her mother. Alice and Matt are in sync; they plan their garden together, and he teaches her how to care for their tools. Alice's mother, Angie, adores high heels and dressing up to go out. She stresses to her husband that she is "not a farm wife." When Matt is called to active duty in Iraq, the small family nearly disintegrates. Angie checks out, and Alice refuses to wear anything other than Matt's old shirt. She is left to navigate young adulthood, relationships, and the care of her younger sister, Ellie, while waiting for word of her father's fate. Harrington, a playwright and professor of playwriting at MIT, chooses a timely topic and obviously loves her characters, but her debut novel is an adaptation of her off-Broadway musical, Alice Unwrapped, and reads very much like a play. Stage directions and stilted dialog take the place of what should be flowing scenes and descriptive characterizations. VERDICT This valiant effort could work for those with loved ones overseas, but the novel's structure falls flat. It would be better reworked as a screenplay for young adults. [See Prepub Alert, 1/17/11.]-Julie Kane, Sweet Briar Coll. Lib., VA (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Playwright and lyricist Harrington transforms her one-act musical Alice Unwrapped into a moving debut about loss and survival. Fifteen-year-old Alice has always been closer to her father (they share a love of working with their hands) than to her mother, but when she needs him the most, he's deployed to Iraq. Alice flexes her independence by claiming his workshop as her own and wearing his shirt. She feels a mix of responsibility and resentment toward her precocious little sister and her disengaged mother, and pursues typical teenage rites of passage while fearing the arrival of bad news. When it comes, Alice inspires her family to preserve her father's traditions and to craft new ones in his honor. The playwright's facility with language is evident throughout: "Maybe, she thinks, maybe he'll be home in time for cucumbers, and if not cucumbers, then for corn, and if not corn, then surely in time for tomatoes." Though the fluid narration offers access to many characters, this is the story of Alice, her courage, fear, and optimism, and her heartbreaking discovery of the extent to which her father's life will shape and guide her own. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
School Library Journal Review
Alice's idyllic small-town life is interrupted when her father's army reserve unit is called up for active duty in Iraq. After he is declared missing in action, she turns to her best friend, the boy next door, for support. (June) (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
*Starred Review* It's hard enough being a teenager, clashing with your mother and annoyed by your little sister, without having your dad gone. Fifteen-year-old Alice Bliss, who learned about life in general and gardening in particular from her father, Matt, was so bereft when his guard unit deployed to Iraq that for weeks she wore one of his shirts for its lingering scent of him. Assuring his wife, Angie, that he'd come home, Matt still prepared for all contingencies, including leaving letters to Alice for future milestones in her life, and he left a solid support system that started with Angie's mother and her brother, Eddie. But while Gram could cook and comfort, and Uncle Eddie could fix the washer and teach Alice to drive, no one could help when two soldiers came to the Bliss' door. This is a remarkably sensitive first novel, full of splendid characterizations, about a family left behind when a man goes off to war and a teenager is left trying to cope with her own feelings while covering for her emotionally reeling mother. It's a heartbreaker have tissues at hand with promise shining through the pain.--Leber, Michel. Copyright 2010 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
Playwright Harrington's first novel, based on her one-woman musical, focuses on the upstate New York family of a National Guard reservist called into service during the Iraq War.Salt-of-the-earth Matt Bliss considers it his moral obligation to serve his country, although he hates leaving behind his beloved, distraught wife Angie and his daughters: 8-year-old Ellie and 15-year-old Alice. Once he's left for duty, Angie throws herself into her insurance career but can barely function domestically. Precocious Ellie starts wetting the bed and reading Matt's dictionary aloud. Stalwart Alice, with whom Matt has always shared a special bond, tries to pick up the slack at home with only minimal success. For support she turns to her longtime best friend Henry, the unbelievably caring boy every mother hopes her teenage daughter will luck into as her first love. At the cusp of adolescence, Alice finds their relationship changing in confusing ways, especially when an older, popular but equally sensitive boy named John shows an interest in her. Teenage romance takes the passenger seat when word comes that Matt has been declared MIA. Fortunately, the Blisses receive succor from Angie's mother and brother, as well as many friends in their idyllic small town. Angie rises to the challenge, helping her daughters function day by day. By the time they learn Matt's fate, Angie and Alice have struggled past minor mother-daughter tensions to offer each other consolation.Alice is in many ways a different girl by story's end. The novel closes with a lovely image that theatrically arcs back to the opening scene.It feels curmudgeonly to fault Harrington's earnest, uplifting (and apolitical) approach to this topical subject, but the surfeit of sensitivity weakens its impact and the reader's interest.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.