Alice may be the president’s daughter, but she’s nobody’s darling. As bold as her signature color Alice Blue, the gum-chewing, cigarette-smoking, poker-playing First Daughter discovers that the only way for a woman to stand out in Washington is to make waves–oceans of them. With the canny sophistication of the savviest politician on the Hill, Alice uses her celebrity to her advantage, testing the limits of her power and the seductive thrill of political entanglements.
But Washington, DC is rife with heartaches and betrayals, and when Alice falls hard for a smooth-talking congressman it will take everything this rebel has to emerge triumphant and claim her place as an American icon. As Alice soldiers through the devastation of two world wars and brazens out a cutting feud with her famous Roosevelt cousins, it’s no wonder everyone in the capital refers to her as the Other Washington Monument–and Alice intends to outlast them all.
American Princess is the latest novel by Stephanie Thornton who normally focuses on highlighting the lives of the unsung women of ancient empires, however this time she is inviting us to spend some time in the twentieth century with Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the eldest daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt. Alice’s life began under tragic circumstances as her mother, Alice Hathaway Lee, died of kidney failure two days after giving birth to her daughter who was named after her. Roosevelt, already mourning the death of his mother, socialite Martha Stewart “Mittie” Bulloch who had died eleven hours earlier, recorded in his diary how ‘the light has gone out of my life.”
Unable to bear looking at the daughter who reminded him of his beloved wife, young Alice was handed over to Roosevelt’s sister, Bamie, to raise until the age of three. Alice returned to live with her father after his second marriage to Edith Kermit Carew in 1886 who gave him five more children. Alice’s relationship with her father continued to be a distant one though as he pursued his political career and she believed he held her responsible for her mother’s death. Alice’s early relationship with her stepmother was also fraught with tension as Edith was well aware she was not the love of Roosevelt’s life and could never replace Alice Lee.
American Princess opens with the news President William McKinley has died from the gunshot wounds he received in an assassination attempt, and Theodore Roosevelt becomes the 26th President of the United States. At eighteen, Alice is about to become America’s newest sweetheart and every move she makes is soon splashed over the newspapers much to her delight and to the horror of her parents. Alice relishes her new role as First Daughter but she is disappointed when she realises most people want to be her friend to get their picture in the papers. Tiring of the social whirl and the disapproval of her parents, Alice yearns for independence but knows she can only achieve that through marriage.
Right from the start, Alice is an exceptional character and Thornton does a great job of portraying her complexities so we never stop liking her even when she is behaving at her most outrageous. Irreverent is a word commonly used to describe Alice throughout the novel but there is always a reason behind her behaviour and she is never cruel just for the sake of it. Initially, Alice is dismissed as a social butterfly flitting from one party to the other, however there is much more to her character and she is actually quite intellectual. Living in Washington, Alice holds her own by learning about politics and keeping up with current affairs so her father begins to rely on her advice. Alice’s relationship with her father matures as the story unfolds and they eventually forge a strong bond as old resentments are laid to rest and new tragedies are endured.
Less satisfying is Alice’s choice of husband in Nicholas Longworth III, an alcoholic womaniser, who is a congressman for Ohio. Nick is described as a charmer but he comes across as more of cad than anything else and he is great disappointment. Alice and Nick seem to have little in common, other than politics, and he is certainly not a match for her intellectually so we have to rely on Alice’s insistence he is a handsome and sexy man because he does not come across that way at all. The most dramatic aspect of their marriage comes when Theodore Roosevelt decides to run for a third term as president and must campaign against William Howard Taft for the Republican ticket. Since the Longworths and Tafts are old friends and Nick’s seat in Cincinnati relies on him supporting Taft, he cannot support Alice’s father and it increasingly strains their marriage. Most of the time we see the less charming side of Nick’s character so it is hard to believe he is a gifted politician.
Since Alice lived until she was 96 years of age, there is a lot of history to get through, including two world wars, so some parts of the story have to be condensed otherwise the book would be far too long. The time jumps are handled so subtlety, you are barely aware they’ve happened so the story flows naturally and never seems disjointed. It must’ve been difficult deciding which part of Alice’s life to include but you do get a really good sense of who she was even with the changes the author admits to having made.