October 28, 2013

Review: The F- It List by Julie Halpern

The F- It List
Author: Julie Halpern
Release Date: November 12th 2013
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Page Count: 256 
Source: ARC from Netgalley
Rating: Aggression and anger abound! (Perhaps a bit too much for my tastes.)
With her signature heart and humor, Julie Halpern explores a strained friendship strengthened by one girl’s battle with cancer.

Alex’s father recently died in a car accident. And on the night of his funeral, her best friend Becca slept with Alex’s boyfriend. So things aren’t great. Alex steps away from her friendship with Becca and focuses on her family.

But when Alex finally decides to forgive Becca, she finds out something that will change her world again--Becca has cancer. 

So what do you do when your best friend has cancer? You help her shave her head. And then you take her bucket list and try to fulfill it on her behalf. Because if that’s all you can do to help your ailing friend--you do it.

[Summary Source: Goodreads]

Alex's dad dies suddenly at the end of the school year. Just after, Becca, her best friend, sleeps with Alex's boyfriend. As a result, Alex is pretty pissed and spends the summer not speaking to Becca. However, at the end of the summer, Alex is over the betrayal. She didn't care much for her boyfriend, it was just a matter of pride. But then when she gets back to school, she finds out Becca has cancer and won't be coming back to school. When Alex does catch up with Becca, she discovers that Becca has a bucket list but is very much bedridden and unable to complete it. So Alex takes on Becca's bucket list (retitled The F- It List) as her own.

And then there's troubles with a boy and grief angsty behavior that kind of swallows up the bucket list making this book more about the swearing than the list itself.

Let's break this down:

This book really wasn't what I thought it was going to be.

I thought the story would be about a girl completing a bucket list for her friend who's very sick while dealing with all of the death in her life. But it's really more about the latter than the former. Yeah, the bucket list is there, but it's kind of afterthought. Alex only does a few of the items and said items don't really push her character development. It's more that she does the few items to prove her devotion to her ailing friend.

Which is fine, but it was kind of a disappointment to me because the book's title makes me feel like the list is quite a lot of the story.

Title issues aside, I really felt like this book was incredibly harsh. It's a run of one bad thing after another. It's also a lot of swearing and some... intimate situations. I, personally, didn't mind and felt like it was an honest depiction of what teenage life sometimes look like - especially teenage life filled with loss and grief. But for those who don't like those sort of things (as I know many don't), perhaps this aspect of the book might rub you the wrong way.

I also find it admirable that this book shows a female lead character behaving badly. The way Alex processes grief is very, very different from the way most characters in the YA novels I've read do. It's harsh, scary and full of denial, but definitely representative of teenage behavior - even if I can't quite relate to it the way I was hoping. She also doesn't handle things with her love interest, Leo, very well. Which was infuriating - almost as infuriating as they sort of just fell together in a very sudden way - but I did like them together in the moments they were together.

All in all, my favorite bits of this book were the ones that had Becca in them. I wouldn't think that to be the case as I'm not so interested in people who cheat, but Alex is quite unlikable and someone I'd definitely like to shake, but Becca is quite wonderful at the end of it all. I also really like her relationship with the boy next door. That's hilarious and very antic-y. Which I very much enjoy. I'm not as brazen as her (just as I am not as angst-ridden, intense and flighty as Alex is), but she somehow made me smile even through her suffering.

I did enjoy Alex's family, though. A lot of the time families fall apart when a member of the family dies and it's the main character's job to keep it together, but this time it's the opposite and while I didn't enjoy all the stoic falling apart from Becca, I did enjoy her family's coping.

The long and short of it?

Plot: Harsh and not so much my cup of tea.
World Building: It's a lot of bad things one after another but I suppose it could happen - even if it kind of drowned me a bit.
Character Development: Alex's progression from angry girl to slightly less angry girl is enjoyable, even if I don't like her very much as a character. 
Prose: Very readable but with a few more swear words than I usually prefer.
Would I Recommend This Book?: It's not my favorite bucket list book of the season but if you're looking for something harsh, in your face and grief-filled, this is the one for you.

Have you read this one? Did you feel the same as me, or different? Perhaps I've made you want to read this one more or less if you haven't gotten your hands on it already. Whatever the case, let me know your thoughts in the comments below!