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Both their worlds are thrown upside down when Alice gets sick. She is diagnosed with terminal cancer. She won't live much longer. Alice's battle with Leukemia is very truthful. Harvey describes her appearance in full detail. Alice deteriorates quickly, and Harvey is by her side the entire side. They have begun a slightly romantic relationship. Occasional kisses. Harvey knew it was a mistake to get even closer to Alice while she got sicker and sicker, but he couldn't say no to her, and this is Harvey's greatest flaw. Alice stops her chemotherapy rather quickly, because it is making her life to miserable.
As Alice continues her struggle, the whole death thing hits her. She realizes that there are things she needs to do before she dies, and she gets started right away. She get's Harvey to help her and she goes on a "Paper Towns" style revenge quest. But it's not only revenge she is going for. There are a few nicer deeds thrown in the mix.
Alice starts with Luke. Her ex-boyfriend. Luke was pretty terrible to Alice. He cheated on her with Alice's worst high school enemy Celeste. Celeste and Alice have had a rivalry since childhood ballet classes. Alice had the form of a ballerina, and always beat out the slightly curvier Celeste.
To get revenge on Luke, Alice get's ahold of a photograph. It is a snapshot of Luke kissing another boy from school. Luke's face is clearly visible in the shot. Alice tells Luke to come to the gym to before she showed the whole school the picture. This may not seem like a horrible situation. But trust me, it gets worse. Luke runs into the gym from weight lifting class. All he has on is a towel. Turns out, there is an assembly going on, so Luke is shimmying up a ladder is a towel. And oh so slowly that towel falls off. Alice didn't have to even post the picture for Luke to embarrass himself in front of the whole school.
For Celeste, Alice goes even farther. Celeste is in the school musical, dancing a ballet solo. When Celeste goes on stage, Harvey helps her distract the people who are supposed to go on stage, so she can. The stage managers try to fix everything, but eventually just let it go. Alice and Celeste dance side by side. As their plan continues, a huge bucket of fake blood is dumped on their heads. This iconic scene from "Carrie" was really intense. Harvey's view of Alice dancing around with fake blood on her was astonishing. It was really unpredicted. I had simply thought Alice would steal Celeste's part in the ballet.
Her other tasks on her bucket list were nicer. They changed the lives of people. She purchased a dog that was about to be put down and gave it to the neighbor girl who couldn't afford it. She also found Harvey's grandfather for him. His father had left when he was a baby. Harvey had always been curious about his father, and Alice gave him the lead he needed. Alice, Harvey and a few other friends also sneak into an amusement park. With all the angst and drama with Alice's leukemia, this was a nice scene filled with friendship and nostalgia. However, this doesn't leave Alice in the right. She is a mean girl. As bad as Celeste. She fuels that fire one hundred percent. At times, even Harvey tells her what a terrible person she is being. Harvey holds Alice on a bit of pedestal, so when he says something like this, we know it's true.
Alice and Harvey's relationship wasn't always easy. Harvey told Alice he loved her, but she couldn't say it back. I think she has a fear of commitment. Her cancer was probably to blame for that. She didn't want to get close to Harvey, because soon she would leave him alone in his misery. I guess I understand her reasoning. They were incredibly close, however. Alice persuaded Harvey to have sex with her because she wanted to before she died. She told him that she would miss Harvey the most. To him, that was equal to an "I Love You".
But with no explanation, Alice's cancer is gone. She's now in remission. Her family is ecstatic, but Alice doesn't know what to feel. She has spent the last year waiting for death. She had accepted that death was always looming around her. Sometimes she yearned for it. For now, that possibility is gone. Alice has another problem with this. Harvey will assume that their relationship will continue normally. However, Alice is still afraid of her feelings about Harvey. She knows that Harvey will want a commitment, and Alice doesn't want to give him that.
Alice's solution is simply to avoid Harvey. Even when she returns to school, she doesn't even look at him. It hurt both of them deeply. They drift apart. When they awkwardly meet at the dance studio or in class, they don't get along. Alice meets Eric. She needs an escape and uses Eric as that. He comes over and they get steamy. And right on cue, in walks our favorite, Harvey. He is devastated. No matter how much Alice avoided him, Harvey thought there was still something between that. He told Alice to choose, and she didn't choose Harvey.
After this, Alice becomes a very flawed character. We knew that she used Harvey the whole time she had cancer. During her bucket list, he did things for Alice that he really didn't want to do. He was a very good person, and the things he was doing for Alice were wrong. She also manipulated him during their so-called relationship.
Harvey is still in love with Alice. Nothing he does can seem to shake her. Deborah is used as a distraction. When Harvey talks to this new girl and forms a sort of relationship. Deborah is nice, but her and Harvey don't really click. They both know this, but continue to see each other.
Celeste and Luke come to taunt Alice in full force. They make a fake memorial for her in the school hallway. The first problem with this is that Alice is still alive! Maybe if she had died, something like this would be acceptable, but not now. Now it's just insulting. The worst part is that it's not a normal memorial. There are terrible words on all the pictures and Alice's eyes are all scratched out. Alice sees this and punches Luke in the face. She may be a bad girl, and have this hard exterior, but this event really hurt her inside.
Alice's family and Harvey and his mom always go on small road trips. This year, they are going to a beach house a few hours away. The car ride is intensely awkward. Alice and Harvey don't talk. Her dad guilts her into talking and singing to the road trip music, by saying how much they need a break. At the beach house, Harvey and Alice share a room and their relationship boils over.
In the middle of the night, after a swim in the ocean, Alice kisses Harvey. They escape into each other for the night. It was a really sweet moment, even thought they both knew it was wrong. What made it even more wrong was that Harvey's girlfriend Deborah showed up at the beach house. the family had invited her along and not told Alice. Alice is devastated. She yells at Harvey and gets screamed at by her mother. Alice uses a secret she has been keeping for years, that her mother had been cheating on her father. She chucks a frying pan into the sliding glass door. Storming out ensures.
Harvey comes to apologize to Alice about keeping Deborah a secret. They had just broken up. Deborah and Harvey both knew that he was still in love with Alice, no matter how horrible she treated him. Harvey admits to Alice that he still loves her. All he needs is for her to say it back. Alice is ready too as well, but something entirely different comes out of her mouth.
She calls Harvey out on everything. Calls him pathetic. Calls him a distraction. After everything that Harvey did for Alice whether is concerned her cancer or not. Alice tells Harvey that she just used him for everything. I wasn't expecting this from Alice. Even though she can be a mean girl, I never thought she would go so low.
Once the families are home, Alice knows Harvey will never forgive her. So she gives him the information she compiled about his father and leads him to see his grandfather. The way Alice did this was by using a dozen letters with instructions on them. It was really cute, and the plan was successful. Alice returns to Harvey and finally admits to him that she loves him.
Yes, I know, it's a bit of a cheesy ending. Cancer gone, and getting the girl. But it was actually really nice. After all the angst throughout the book, I liked that ended up together. No matter how bad of a friend Alice could be, there was always that part of her that loved Harvey, whether she said it or not.
I'm giving this book 4 out of five stars. It was a really great contemporary novel and I am so glad I found it. I also got the Kindle edition for a great price. Alice and Harvey's relationship was heartfelt and real. It was complicated. It had ups and downs. Another great part of this books is the way the author told the story. Chapters alternated between Harvey and Alice's point of view and they were either "before" or "after". Before meaning before Alice went into remission. These chapters are mostly her revenge plan and complicated romance with Harvey. The after chapters have a lot more anger and troubling circumstances. I recommend this delightful book for any contemporary fans!
Alice is a girl who has gone through the horrific and painful experience of cancer and the treatments to cure it that can be almost as awful as the cancer itself. Her prognosis is not good, so Alice has spent a year preparing to die, only to discover that she has miraculously gone into remission. The cancer is gone. Alice has a future. Great news, right? Well, for Alice ... not so much. While people sometimes take time when learning of a terminal diagnosis to go through a bucket list of experiences to help them leave this life having lived it to the fullest they could as long as they could, Alice chooses to make a bucket list of revenge plans that involve publicly humiliating the people in her life who have done her wrong. She burns one bridge after another in her life, dragging the ever faithful Harvey along for the ride.
Harvey is AMAZING. He is the one bright spot in this otherwise dismal story. He is faithful and strong and caring and forgiving, almost too much. Alice uses him again and again, manipulating his emotions, knowing that he is in love with her and has been since they were children. Again and again he returns to Alice when everyone else has left her. His love is valiant, but ultimately it is too hard to root for him, because although he loves Alice deeply, it is too hard to think that she deserves him. Harvey deserves sooooo much better. I root for Harvey in this story, but I don't root for Harvey and Alice. Unfortunately, that is the driving direction of the story, so it harmed my enjoyment of things.
It was interesting to analyze my feelings as I read Alice's story. The story goes between present day situations and flashbacks to points during Alice's diagnosis and treatment for cancer. I found myself at the beginning trying to almost forgive Alice for her horrible actions and thoughts, thinking, "Well, she has cancer. Who am I to judge her for how she handles such a difficult situation?" But as the story continued more and more I found myself saying, "No. She's just a horrible person with cancer. The cancer didn't make her horrible. That was all there before the cancer started, and it seems to still be around even after the cancer has left." And that's true. Cancer doesn't magically changed what is inside a person. It can intensify things a bit. It can rearrange life priorities. But sometimes a horrible person is still a horrible person, no matter what calamity hits them.
If this story had been more of a story of redemption, I think I could have really enjoyed it. Alice has a mess of problems, and she does deal with them ... eventually. But this redemption doesn't really begin until the book is 90% complete. That was too long for me. By that point I had already decided that I didn't care for Alice, and I was actively cheering moments when it seemed as if Harvey was moving on. I was too far gone as a reader to get back on the "Go Alice!" train. And then the ending didn't spend any time at all on the happy results of the redemption. There wasn't enough payback for the time spent in horrible Alice's head.
I do think that there will be many who do like this story. It is well written, and I am sure that there are great themes and lessons to be learned from this story. For me, however, I could never work past my intense dislike of Alice and her actions toward others, especially Harvey. I can only give this one two stars. It was okay. (But keep a look out for this author. There is lots of talent here. I am sure I would really enjoy other books by her that are less angsty).
But the fact is it's not just about getting the last word. She's just mean and she knows it. There's one part where she actually blames it on drugs and Harvey tells her it wasn't even real drugs that she took- it's just her. You feel sorry for her at some points through the story but it's really, really hard to like someone who knows they're being awful but can't or won't stop. You do however feel sorry for pretty much everyone else whose been trying to take care of and help her even as she makes them miserable.
However that aside in the end I did enjoy the book. I did feel like Alice, Harvey and pretty much everyone else dealt with their stuff and moved forward appropriately and honestly. I even appreciated Alice. So if you can stomach a miserable (but brutally honest) main character then I'd recommend this one for a different kind of kids with cancer book.
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