On the crisp, sunny morning of Dec. 14, 2012, Malden High School was greeted with a very special guest, Laura Harrington, author of the acclaimed 2011 young adult, Iraq war novel Alice Bliss. MHS English teacher Robin Doherty had been reading the book with her senior students, and had the opportunity to meet Harrington through a friend's book club. Harrington agreed to not only visit with the students, but to interact with them over the class wikispace website, as well as through Twitter. Harrington loved seeing the reactions of her new readers right before her eyes, all made possible through the magic of social media.
Through The Looking Glass, a senior elective taught by Doherty as well as James Valente and Constance Halks, is a class that searches to expose students to multicultural pieces and have them assess their perspective in life as well as how they view the world. Alice Bliss was chosen for their unit on war and peace. The seniors in the class had wiki discussions, where they would post all of their thoughts on the book, and Harrington read through them all. Her favorite part, according to Harrington was “meeting really amazing readers with thoughtful and fantastic questions.” To her, the discussions were two-sided, because she felt as though they learned something from one another. She also states that she is “really passionate about having [Alice Bliss] become part of the curriculum.”
The book is focused on a young girl named Alice Bliss, whose father goes to war, and the family must deal with the knowledge that he left them to go fight in a war zone. He is later killed while fighting abroad in the war and Alice Bliss tells the journey of the family who must come to terms with this terrible loss while also trying to lead a normal life.
Harrington drew the inspiration for Alice Bliss from her own experiences. Her father fought in World War II and upon returning, war was never a subject discussed in their household. This sparked a curiosity in Harrington as a child which continued to grow until she finally came up with the idea for Alice Bliss. The goal of her first novel was to educate her readers on the importance of being aware of current events, and also to show people how the soldiers are not the only ones who suffer from the consequences of war. Harrington feels as though citizens have a “responsibility that [most of us] are ignoring.” The main reason Alice Bliss is told from the perspective of 15-year-old Alice, is due to the fact that Harrington enjoys being able to “give a voice to the voiceless,” in situations such as these.
The writing process for Harrington was an intense experience. She believes that a writer should not write something unless they are "obsessed" with the story, the characters, and the message. She jokes that she would like to “write a comedy next,” although a sequel to Alice Bliss is already in the works. It is to be called A Catalogue of Birds and deals with a Vietnam War veteran who returns home “very hurt.” Harrington would also like to see this book be integrated into a curriculum but because it will be darker than Alice Bliss, perhaps for college rather than high school. Once those key details were finalized, Harrington researched her topic, and interviewed family members affected by the war. After several months of taking to the families of veterans and drawing from her own experiences, Harrington became confident that she had sufficient research, and began the actual writing of the novel. Once the novel was concluded, she felt as though it “helped her understand some aspects of war,” but that she is still completely baffled as to why we think it is a good solution to our problems.
For aspiring authors she gives advice to “read as though your writing depends on it...because it does.” She also advises them to model the work ethic of musicians who show up to practice each and every day even though they may not feel up to it. Above all, Harrington stresses the need to “be kind to yourself.” Alice Bliss in currently in the process of being turned into a musical with Playwrights Horizons in New York City, who coincidentally also did Harrington’s first musical. For the first time, she will collaborating with the lyricist, Adam Gwon, and will help write the lyrics. Although there are no set plans yet, they’re hoping to have the first workshop to begin planning in May 2013. Harrington states that she is amazed at the journey Alice Bliss has taken her on and that it is “so unpredictable, [there is no way] of knowing where it will take [her].”