Review: A Messy, Beautiful Life

A Messy, Beautiful Life by Sara Jade Alan

Series: No

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary

Release Date: October 2, 2017

Format: eARC

Source: Entangled Teen

Find it here: GoodReads | Amazon

Life is funny sometimes.

And not always the ha, ha kind. Like that one time where a hot guy tried to kiss me and I fell. Down. Hard. And then found out I had cancer.

I’m trying to be strong for my friends and my mom.

And I’m trying so hard to be “just friends” with that hot guy, even though he seems to want so much more. But I won’t do that to him. He’s been through this before with his family, and I’m not going to let him watch me die.

So, I tell myself: Smile Ellie. Be funny Ellie. Don’t cry Ellie, because once I start, I might not stop.


“I wondered how it was possible that my life was at its very best
and its very worst simultaneously. Messy and beautiful.”

I admit I was a bit wary of this one. Novels that tackle serious illness can easily fall into mawkishness. I’m happy to report A Messy, Beautiful Life is not one of them. Yes, main character Ellie is diagnosed with cancer, but whereas some stories would then veer into saccharine clichés and overly sentimental tropes, Sara Jade Alan managed to avoid those traps and instead deliver a story that is funny, honest and equal parts heart-breaking and heart-warming.

High school senior Ellie is co-captain of an improv group and it’s during a performance that she meets Jason. The chemistry is immediate and when Ellie sees him again at a party the sparks fly and she’s pretty sure the feeling is mutual. But the night is derailed when a fall lands her in the hospital and all of a sudden doctors are throwing around words like scans, MRI and biopsy. And then the diagnosis: cancer.

Ellie was a character that was easy to admire. Even before her diagnosis I appreciated her can-do attitude and her close relationships with her friends and her mom. And after the diagnosis I admired her even more. Yes, she usually tried to be strong for her mom and friends but Ellie was no martyr. She was afraid, she cried, she questioned ‘why me?’ and railed against the unfairness of it. She struggled with her relationship with her father as well as her growing feelings for Jason. She liked him and felt better when he was around, but was it fair to ask him to see her through such a difficult time?

Ellie was surrounded by an amazing support group and I loved the encouragement and comfort they each provided. Her mother was present and involved and I appreciated how they seemed to be very much a team while still maintaining their mother-daughter roles. Her girlfriends were priceless (not a mean girl in sight!) and always there to lend a shoulder to cry on, make her laugh, and just generally be some of the best friends ever. I also loved seeing the relationship between Ellie and her step-brother Craig develop into a truly caring and supportive bond.

My quibbles are few. First, there were times when the dialogue between Ellie and her friends didn’t ring true for me. Their banter sometimes felt forced and not realistic given their ages (do seventeen year olds actually know what Toastmasters is?). Secondly, the school yoga teacher/counselor seemed a bit over the top New Age-y and had I been sent to see her as a high school student I think she would have seemed more oddball than helpful.

A Messy, Beautiful Life was filled with humor and heart and brought me to tears more than once, not only with empathy for what Ellie was facing but also when my heart was warmed by the show of love and support. I encourage readers to pick this one up and experience Ellie’s resilience and humor for themselves.

Note: I received an advance copy of this title from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way changes my opinion of the book or the content of this review.

4/5 STARS

8 comments

  1. I don't know what the Toastmasters is...hahah

    I'm glad this was a good one for you and it didn't become overly cliche! Ellie sounds like a great character.

    -Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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    1. My point is proven. LOL I’m not sure many adults know what Toastmasters is... much less high school kids.

      And Ellie was definitely a great main character.

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  2. When you said "equal parts heart-breaking and heart-warming" I was all in. I am actually reading this at some point next week, and I am getting the tissues ready. I predict there will be tears, because I got a little misty here reading your review.

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    1. Can’t wait to see your thoughts on this one, Sam!

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  3. LOL I did not know what Toastmasters is, had to look it up >.< now that I did, it's familiar.
    Sorry the dialog was weird, I have not heard of it till now

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    1. Exactly! I don’t think that many adults are familiar with Toastmasters... which made the reference by a high school kid seem really out of place. Luckily that was an isolated incident and overall I enjoyed the book a lot.

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  4. lovely review! I wish I could read it. After a Monster Calls and the Fault in our Stars [which I didn't even read but watch the movie] I realized I just can't read book about cancer. They totally undo me. They hit way to close to home! Glad you enjoy it!

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    1. Oh boy, then this one definitely isn't for you, love. Even though there's a good outcome, the subject matter is probably too much. :(

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