Books: The Cheapest Vacation You Can Buy











The Truth About AliceFrom Goodreads: Everyone has a lot to say about Alice Franklin, and it’s stopped mattering whether it’s true. The rumors started at a party when Alice supposedly had sex with two guys in one night. When school starts everyone almost forgets about Alice until one of those guys, super-popular Brandon, dies in a car wreck that was allegedly all Alice’s fault. Now the only friend she has is a boy who may be the only other person who knows the truth, but is too afraid to admit it. Told from the perspectives of popular girl Elaine, football star Josh, former outcast Kelsie, and shy genius Kurt, we see how everyone has a motive to bring – and keep – Alice down.

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This novel follows suit of the game telephone, showing just how much gossip promotes rumors and distorts the truth.  It’s a great novel depicting a form of bullying that’s not addressed as much as the physical or taunting kind, showing how lies for selfish gain, or to protect oneself, can ruin another, whether intentional or not.

The entire novel, save the last chapter, is told from the perspective of Alice’s former friends/frenemies.  Loner Kurt, football player Josh, former best friend and outcast Kelsie, and popular diva Elaine alternate chapters, spinning their tales and giving readers their “expert” take on events that, for the most part, none of them witnessed.  And as they slowly work towards the truth of the matter, admitting to lies and other deceits for the sake of their wellbeing, it becomes clear that the events Alice is blamed for are not quite the truth at all.

Everyone in this novel has secrets.  They hold grudges, make rash decisions, lie to protect themselves, and ultimately destroy Alice one way or another, and while some of them do it intentionally, others mean no harm, but their secrecy does just as much damage as those spreading lies.  It is said that sticks and stones can break our bones, but words… can never hurt us.  And yet, I think most people would agree that words do hurt, and they leave an unseen mark that can strip away one’s soul, and that is exactly what Alice is experiencing throughout the course of the year as the school runs rampant with gossip.

As much as I hated Josh, Kelsie, and Elaine (Kurt was perhaps the nicest and most understanding of all the characters), I loved the multiple perspectives.  And the theme, the bullying, makes this an intense read. While no one technically physically bullies Alice—they don’t even really talk to her—ostracizing someone and spreading rumors about them is just as bad, if not worse, than saying it directly to their face.  It’s a powerful statement that today’s generation really needs to hear and internalize, and I highly recommend this novel to tween readers and beyond.

The final chapter is told from Alice’s perspective, and it’s just… a perfect conclusion.  I love that the novel ends on a positive note, that there is hope, yet it doesn’t undermine the effects that bullying and ostracizing had on Alice, and it doesn’t sugarcoat anything.  It’s realistic and, in my mind, the perfect conclusion to a great story.  Four stars.

4 stars

In exchange for an honest review, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and Roaring Brook Press have been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on June 3, 2014.

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Side Effects May VaryFrom Goodreads: What if you’d been living your life as if you were dying—only to find out that you had your whole future ahead of you?

When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis is grim. To maximize the time she does have, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs—however she sees fit. She convinces her friend Harvey, whom she knows has always had feelings for her, to help her with a crazy bucket list that’s as much about revenge (humiliating her ex-boyfriend and getting back at her arch nemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger and reliving some childhood memories). But just when Alice’s scores are settled, she goes into remission.

Now Alice is forced to face the consequences of all that she’s said and done, as well as her true feelings for Harvey. But has she done irreparable damage to the people around her, and to the one person who matters most?

Julie Murphy’s SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY is a fearless and moving tour de force about love, life, and facing your own mortality.

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This was an interesting read, though I’m sorry to say that I really disliked the main character, Alice–she’s a user and, as she was told many times in the novel, she’s just plain mean. Although Alice tries to blame many of her actions on cancer, it’s more that she’s a jerk who wants to make sure she gets back at everyone she feels hurt her in some way before she found out she was dying. But, lo and behold, she’s now in remission. Unable to deal with what this means—she can’t continue to lead on her best friend Harvey, she has to go back to school and face the people she tormented (granted, they tormented her too, but come on now… that’s your dying wish?), she can’t waste away in her room all “woe is me,” and she can’t avoid the world anymore—her life begins to spiral out of control.  While I understand that it’s a shock for her when she hears she’s in remission, that she had resigned herself to death, while everyone else celebrates, she hates every minute of it, and that’s hard for me to swallow. And so were her actions throughout much of the novel. She’s just mean–and karma always comes back with a vengeance. The fact that she doesn’t seem to learn from any of her mistakes also drove me crazy–and I ran out of sympathy for her fairly quickly as the novel unfolded.  Now, I’ve never ever been in Alice’s shoes, so I’m on the outside looking in, but I just couldn’t connect with her.

Harvey, on the other hand, I get! He’s a bit gullible and allows Alice to treat him like dirt time and time again, but he’s such a sweetie and… he reminds me of myself as a teen, a long time ago, when I used to pine for people who weren’t worth my time; I’m sure I’m not alone in this sentiment.  And I’m so glad he finally takes a stand for himself, even though it hurts him to do it.  He’s what made the book for me.  Three stars.

3 starsHarperCollins Childrens has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Edelweiss, prior to its release on March 18, 2014.

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