Estelle: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Side Effects May Vary by Julie MurphySide Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: 3/18/2014
Publisher: HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray
Pages: 336
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: cancer, friendship, romance, parental relationships, revenge
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)

Summary: Alice and Harvey are two estranged friends who team up to complete her must-do list when Alice is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Her great strides to make things right (even by doing things so wrong) comes back to haunt her when she surprisingly goes through remission and now she must deal with all she’s said and done.

In a perfect world, we would all be wonderful at expressing ourselves (especially during sticky situations) and handle every tough break with positivity, decorum, and acceptance. Instead, humans, despite their best intentions, slip up all the time. They close themselves off from people (even the ones who care the most) and instead of making the best out of a bad situation, kind of make things worse.

I’m happy to say Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy features imperfect characters, especially the main character Alice. She’s diagnosed with cancer and her mom is lying to the family. She has every right to be angry, definitely. So she recruited her old friend, Harvey, to help her out with a to-do list of things she wants to accomplish before she dies. Most of them are over the top, crazy and insane, but the devoted Harvey is on board, even though their history — childhood friends! friends with feelings! a rift! — is still a thing.

It’s true that I’m more of a Harvey than an Alice. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I am loyal to people I care about. Sometimes too loyal. This is probably why I related more to Harvey than I did to Alice. Like her character, she was even written with a certain bit of detachment so it was hard to connect to her, especially when as a reader we are privy to her feelings but continue to watch her not use her words or tell anyone how she really feels.

Cancer is a common ingredient in books, but I loved Murphy’s unique take. In chapters that alternate between Harvey and Alice, we also switch between time periods: THEN (when Alice discovers she has cancer) and NOW (when Alice unexpectedly goes into remission). So basically Alice has to deal with the repercussions of her actions and for someone as guarded and fearful of confrontation like she is… that’s freaking scary.

I absolutely could not wait to find out how all of this would end. Would Alice let Harvey get away? Would her revenge tactics haunt her forever? Could she move forward with her second chance at life? Something so many people in her position would embrace so thankfully? (Alice is pretty much the only character I’ve ever read about who is pissed off about beating cancer.) So many characters are forced to make adjustments after Alice’s diagnosis changes and it’s really interesting to see how those dynamics play off each other.

Murphy’s writing is sharp, I love her dialogue, and even the other situations she folds in (not being ready to have sex yet, “friendly” competition, mother/daughter relationships and even son/mother relationships, bullying) fit in so naturally. I was completely hooked and read most of Side Effects May Vary in a day. (I was also focused on finding some of Julie’s homages to God Shaped Hole by Tiffanie DeBartolo, a book we both love.) While some of the time transitions were a bit confusing and I would have loved for the ending to be stretched out a bit more, the character growth, the great writing, and creative storytelling made this a winner for me.

I can’t wait to read it again.

Rather Be Reading Buy It Icon

Add to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy on B&N

Book Cover For You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle

Magan: You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle

Book Cover For You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle

You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle {website | twitter}
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 368
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: documentary, realistic fiction, strained friendships, teenage reality movie
Format read: ARC received via Edelweiss from the publisher. (Thank you!)

Summary: At 16, Justine, Rory, Felix, Kiera, and Nate are soon to begin filming another documentary. Beginning when they were 6, a film crew followed them around for a few months to document their lives. They’ve followed up every five years and plan to continue doing so until they’re 21. Oh, how things have changed since they were 11. Justine thinks she’s already lived through the best part of her life and she’s going to let down viewers.

Have you ever misjudged a book? Maybe just thought it would tell a different story than what you read? When I began reading You Look Different in Real Life, I expected something a bit more light-hearted that I would breeze through. I stopped reading book summaries a few months ago because I felt like they were spoiling so much for me, but in this particular case, I think maybe the cover eludes to a different story. (Thoughts?) But I digress… — WOW! — am I so glad I was so misguided. What I read — what Jennifer Castle wrote — is absolutely phenomenal.

In a nutshell, You Look Different in Real Life is deep, engaging, so meaty and full of story — there’s past and present stories that makes everything flow effortlessly. I laughed, I cried. I couldn’t put it down.

Justine, the main character, is uncertain of who she is. When she was six years old, she partook in a documentary film with four other six-year-olds (Rory, Nate, Felix, and Kiera) that followed them throughout the course of a few months. When they turned eleven, the film crew popped back into their lives to begin filming again. At sixteen, Justine is expecting a phone call. She knows they’ll return because the intent was to follow them until they turned 21. She’s hesitant of their return because at 6 and 11, she was somewhat the standout kid — she was quirky and full of personality. She won the hearts of thousands. At 16, she feels she’s digressed because she peaked at 11. Justine now feels like she’s lost herself — she has no hobbies and no particular talents. Everyone who loved her in the previous films will be disappointed with who she’s become.

To make matters more interesting, Justine, Rory, Nate, Kiera, and Felix aren’t really a close group of friends. They’ve all, in multiple ways, hurt one another. Rory is Justine’s ex-best friend; she’s odd and blatantly honest. Justine has things she wants to say to Rory, genuinely, but is afraid that they will come off as being timed for the film. Nate has made the biggest turnaround of the group; he used to be a misfit who got teased endlessly, but now he’s a popular jock. Justine resents him because she thinks (but doesn’t know the details of the exact encounter) he did something to Felix, her present day best friend. Felix wants to be a star; he’s always felt overshadowed and wants to have a bigger role in the next film. And lastly, there’s Kiera. She and Justine orbit in different worlds and don’t particularly get along. Kiera is friends with Nate and she’s pretty/popular.

What the film crew expects to find is the complete opposite of the reality they stumble upon. So much so that they have to intervene and begin to manipulate situations to get these very hesitant-to-interact teenagers together. What really makes the story feel like a fresh breath of air are the many, many details put into aspects of who these kids are/were. Everything feels completely believable and realistic. We aren’t always given all of the details upfront, but I trusted Castle would carefully lead us to the end of the rainbow where all the answers awaited. There’s not a moment I felt like she, Castle, was providing unsubstantial information; each sentence was flooded with supportive details and full of character-building. Every progression in the story felt natural and made so much sense.

But maybe my most favorite aspect was how well-rounded everything felt. Castle set the scene and created a whole picture throughout the book by including a barrage of family and friendship moments. With all the transitions, growth, uncertainty. I find it impressive that a story based on the “reality” of five teenagers being filmed and documented could ironically feel so flawless and full of life; maybe because reality TV has conditioned me to believe only 5% of what’s being aired, I assumed Castle’s story would take the same over-the-top approach since it tackled a familiar situation. But I just couldn’t have been more wrong.

You Look Different in Real Life turned out to be one of the happiest surprises of 2013 for me!

Rather Be Reading Buy It Icon

Add to Goodreads | Purchase from Amazon

Book Cover for Thousand Words by Jennifer Brown

Magan: Thousand Words by Jennifer Brown

Book Cover for Thousand Words by Jennifer BrownThousand Words by Jennifer Brown ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: May 21, 2013
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 282
Target audience: Mature Young Adult
Keywords: realistic contemporary fiction, sexting, community service, break-up
Format read: ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley (Thank you!)

Summary: Ashleigh’s boyfriend, Kaleb, spreads a nude photograph she privately sent him after their break-up. Parents are infuriated by the photograph and provoke the school administrators to take action. Suspension from school isn’t enough; she’s arrested and sentenced to sixty hours of community service for distributing child pornography.

One text. One text has ruined Ashleigh’s life.

After about a year together, Ashleigh and Kaleb would soon face their greatest challenge — he would be leaving for college. Ashleigh wants to soak up every minute with Kaleb before he leaves, but he’s focused on spending time with his boys, and playing baseball every chance they get because they’ll be spread throughout the country at different schools.

Fed up with his abandonment, Ashleigh drunkenly confides in her friends, Vonnie and Rachel. They recommend she capture his attention by texting him a nude photo. How could he possibly ignore Ashleigh after that?

Fast-forward through the details of Kaleb’s departure and Ashleigh’s insecurity to their ugly, vengeful breakup. One thing leads to another, but Ashleigh never expected Kaleb to send out a mass text of her nude photo to every one of his contacts. The text is forwarded and shared and Ashleigh’s name and contact information are added to the photograph. Soon, Ashleigh finds herself in the middle of a sexting scandal that has her school in an uproar and she’s in trouble for distributing child pornography.

She faces sixty hours of community service as her court ordered sentence. She’s all alone — her relationship long over, friendships on the brink of destruction, she’s bullied, and her father’s superintendent job could be terminated. One seemingly innocent text has ruined Ashleigh’s clean record and reputation.

Thousand Words is the first experience reading Jennifer Brown. I’ve heard praises for her work by so many of my book-loving friends, and thankfully, can now join the choir to spread the word. Brown tackles a relevant and extremely difficult topic. Was Ashleigh wrong for sending the photo? Should she have gotten in trouble? What are the repercussions for Kaleb sharing the photo? There are so many complexities that make a resolution darn near impossible, but Brown explores each sector so well. Ashleigh goes through the ups and downs of feeling like she’d been pressured into sending the photograph, the anger at Kaleb for not being the upstanding guy she thought he was, and the devastation of realizing that she was as guilty as anyone else. If she hadn’t sent the text, none of this would have ever happened. Hindsight is 20/20, right?

Brown’s Thousand Words tells the very realistic tale of a situation that’s happening across the country. Laws are currently being revised in multiple states to tackle this situation. Ashleigh’s story isn’t easy to read — it’s uncomfortable and frustrating. I was angered by Ashleigh’s attitude and reluctance to accept responsibility for the part she played. She could be very “woe is me” and didn’t always have me convinced she was actually going to learn anything from the situation, other than pointing fingers at everyone else. (But, thankfully, a boy named Mack teaches her a lot about what it is to truly lose everything.) While Thousand Words isn’t a happy, feel-good read, Brown’s writing is spot-on. It’s beyond necessary for her story to be read, shared, and discussed.

Since I’m very much a Jennifer Brown newbie, can you tell me which of her books to read next?

rather be reading worth it icon

Goodreads | Amazon