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Meet the Bliss Family – book review

May 11, 2011

I’ve been asked to review a few books, all military family related. I’ve read some really good ones and some absolutely awful ones. This one, this one is one of the really good ones.

The book is “Alice Bliss” by Laura Harrington. I’m not going to give out the ending but this is the story of Alice Bliss, a 14 year old girl, whose father is Reserve/Guard and who is activated for duty in Iraq, during those years of constant Guard activations. Ms. Harrington writes about Alice’s mother Angie’s reaction to the deployment , a reaction many of us have seen or experienced ourselves, together with that awful teenager/mother relationship.  Alice’s typical teenage adoration of her dad and then the new relationship with the boy next door she has known all her life; not to mention the adorable, funny, little old lady of a little sister, Ellie. There’s Gram, who is the strong woman and rock that this family leans on, the crazy uncle Eddie; this family is everyone’s family. Ladies, do you remember when your daddy was the most perfect person in the world? He was the only one who understood you? And your mother, well really, she was just awful, she didn’t understand anything at all, she’d never been young, she was just impossible. This is Alice’s life; she’s daddy’s best helper, his assistant, his girl. When he leaves, she is bereft in ways that she can’t explain.

After a few pages of the book, I was sure this was written by a member of a military family. I was wrong, the pages of information I was sent along with the book told me Ms. Harrington has no connection to this current military at all. But she’s got it right: the mother’s incapability of continuing to function in the home; Alice’s refusal to give up or wash a shirt of her dad’s; the “backwards dinner” or the cereal meals, it’s written with such sympathy and love and understanding.

One of the “little things” that stood out for me was the box of letters she finds, written by her father for her to open when she needs to hear from him, for the big moments or the small ones. This is one of those things we in the military family can understand – but most civilians would either think was morbid or just strange! A bit like planning funerals for our deployed spouses, right?

I don’t cry a lot, and I really don’t cry when I read a book, but these characters were so well drawn, they were part of the 1% like me, and I cried for them, laughed with them and wanted to give them a shoulder to lean on when they were hurting. I’ve met that woman at an FRG meeting, I’ve seen that teenager slumped in the halls of the schools we meet in, I’ve read their cries for help on Facebook and on blogs, I’ve met them at conferences. I’d like everyone else to meet them – especially the other 99%.

If you get a chance to read this, do it. But if you are going through deployment, wait until he gets home. Then pick it up and meet the Bliss family

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