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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Review: The F-It List by Julie Halpern

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.

Julie Halpern brings something new to the "YA cancer lit" subgenre with The F-It List... simply put, I love this book.

Most YA cancer novels feature either a teen who has cancer or who has a parent with cancer, but this is the first time I've seen that the main character is the best friend of someone with cancer. The fact that Alex is the best friend, not the patient, adds an entirely new perspective to the mix. When you consider the fact that Alex has recently lost her father (to a car accident), her boyfriend (after he slept with her best friend, Becca), and her life is now a complete and utter mess, then throw in Becca having cancer, you know that Halpern is going to steer readers towards some pretty heavy topics.. What you might not expect is that there will be plenty of laughter, plenty of hope, and even more living within the pages of The F-It List.

One of the defining elements of The F-It List was Alex and Becca's relationship. It isn't every day you come across best friends like these two. Sure, they've done some pretty horrible things to one another, but, honestly, what best friends don't find themselves in those situations? Becca, in a moment of misguided weakness, sleeps with Alex's boyfriend... the day of Alex's father's funeral. In response, Alex refuses to speak to or see Becca for the entire summer following the funeral and betrayal. But, the first day of the new school year, Alex goes in search of Becca... because they're best friends and people make mistakes sometimes and deserve to be forgiven. Best friends are sometimes selfish and sometimes entirely self-sacrificing: Alex and Becca have been both, they understand and accept one another, and they're stronger because of it.

For a cancer book, The F-It List, is surprisingly funny. It's easy to expect quirky and/or touching when it comes to "cancer lit," but I can't remember the last time I literally laughed aloud; there is usually a lot more crying than laughing happening. Alex and Becca, however, keep living, with the help of the f-it list, and never give into the cancer that threatens Becca's future. It's clear from the start, when Becca flashes her neighbor to fulfill a goal on the f-it list and decides to shave her head to beat the chemotherapy to taking the hair she's so proud of, that she isn't the type to go down without a fight.

In the midst of Becca's struggle, Alex has other things vying for her attention. Like the father she's recently lost, her mother and two brothers who feels broken without her father, and a mysterious and distracting boy, who should be the least of her worries with all the death and drama currently surrounding her days, but who somehow keeps inserting himself into the forefront of her mind.

I truly appreciated that Halpern never made Alex's issues seem less than Becca's. Instead, the two girls were a united front. They were each fighting battles, sometimes together and sometimes separate, but neither was more or less important. 

I highly recommend Julie Halpern's The F-It List. It deals with difficult topics in a very real, alive sort of way. There are tears, but there is also laughter and real, genuine happiness because Alex and Becca refuse to stop living, no matter what life throws their way.

Feiwel & Friends, November 2013, Hardcover, ISBN:  9781250025654, 256 pgs.


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