Another Alice by Alice Peterson

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Another Alice by Alice Peterson

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Fairhead
Reviewed by Sue Fairhead
Summary: A vivid and often moving portrayal of a young and promising tennis star, suddenly struck down by rheumatoid arthritis.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: January 2009
Publisher: Icon Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1848310414

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Alice is the youngest of four children. One of her brothers is a bit odd, and the older one is rather distant, but she adores her older sister Helen. Their parents are clearly loving and supportive of all they do, so when Alice develops a talent for tennis, they make some sacrifices to fund her lessons and kit, and spend a considerable amount of time driving her to and from tournaments. Alice is a very determined young lady, apparently destined for stardom. She has excellent self-discipline, she is strong, and appears to have just the right amount of competitive spirit.

The book is written in the present tense, which makes for considerable impact and realism. We follow Alice through six years where tennis becomes more and more important to her. She shares her lost matches as well as those she won, and by the time she's eighteen, she's considered one of the top eight young players in the UK.

Then disaster strikes.

This isn't a spoiler: the cover of the book tells us that Alice is diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at a young age. Moreover, the first chapter describes her, at the age of 24, desperately hoping that she can have a trial of a new drug, since she has suffered from the disease for the past six years. So when, at eighteen, she starts feeling numbness in her hands and wrists, the reader already knows what to expect. It kept me in suspense during the early chapters, wondering how far she would get with her tennis, and how disastrous the illness was going to be.

Rheumatoid arthritis is not always totally debilitating; in many cases, apparently, early intervention and drug therapy can lead to the disease burning itself out. Sadly, this doesn't happen in Alice's case. The latter two-thirds of the book chart the many vain attempts made to discover a drug - or combination of drugs - that can help her.

It also charts her descent from hope into despair, and then the gradual, slow acceptance of herself with this horrible disease.

Alice comes across as a likeable, human and remarkably courageous person, due in part to her very supportive family. There are no bad guys in this autobiography other than the rheumatoid arthritis. No abusive relatives or teachers, no bullies mentioned, no real hardship in her early life. The book makes a refreshing read from that perspective alone - few families these days seem to be so functional.

It's also extremely well-written. Some autobiographies are full of painstaking detail which I find myself skimming; others skip about between situations, expecting the reader to know what they're about. Another Alice is written as if it were a novel, introducing all the characters, major and minor, as needed, avoiding unnecessary background or irrelevant detail. There's plenty of conversation and just the right amount of description; by the time I'd finished, I felt as if I knew Alice and her family well.

I learned a great deal about rheumatoid arthritis as I read, without feeling that anyone was lecturing me. I also got quite an insight into the suffering of a young person - not just the physical pain, but the emotional and social problems that go alongside such an illness. The blurb on the back tells me that some of the book would make me laugh aloud: I didn't find that at all. I did find some parts very moving, particularly some of the conversations with her parents. But the majority of the book was written with a light, confident style that kept me reading even when I should have been doing other things.

Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publishers for sending this book.

If you enjoy this, and also like novels, then you would probably like Alice Peterson's You, Me and Him, which is about parents dealing with a child diagnosed with ADHD. Another excellent novel, that focuses on a teenager with debilitating illness, is Pandora's Box by Giselle Green.

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