*This review will contain spoilers!*
First things first, I want to say a massive thank you to Kira Adams, who sent me a free pdf of this novel in return for an honest review.
“I can’t explain the way you make me feel, but I can tell you I’ve never felt more alive in my entire life than when I’m with you.”
‘Learning To Live’ is an upper Young Adult/New Adult novel, which tells us the story of Ciera and Topher. Ciera is an outcast at her high school, constantly bullied by the group of popular kids she not so affectionately refers to as ‘The A-Team’, trudging her way through school and wishing for the last day to hurry up and arrive. Topher is the complete opposite to Ciera, a popular jock, a member of ‘The A-Team’ and one of her biggest tormentors. He’s dating the hottest girl in school and everyone wants to be him, or be with him, but he doesn’t feel anything but contempt for his girlfriend or for the people around him.
At the start of the novel, you will absolutely hate Topher. It’s an unavoidable fact. He is the most arrogant, self-important, uncaring boy that I have ever read in YA or NA – ever. Ciera is a little sweetheart, trying her hardest to be invisible and to avoid all of the bullying that she’s being tormented to, so you can’t help but have your heart break for her, and watching her going through her transformation (all thanks to Madalynne, who seemed to be one of the most unappreciated characters in this novel) and finally get the confidence to look people in the eye is very inspiring. Sometimes characters go through big changes before you can really get a feel for who they were before, but Kira wrote ‘Learning To Live’ very cleverly, in that we get to know both of the main characters very well very quickly, making us fully appreciate the transformations that they both undergo throughout the book.
I did think it was pretty obvious that Ciera was ill from quite early on, so the reveal of her having an incurable brain tumour was not the most surprising announcement, but it was dealt with extremely well, appreciating the fact that it was a sensitive subject that could affect many of the readers. When Ciera decided to reveal the fact of her condition to her best friend, Mack, and Topher, it definitely pulled at my heartstrings, and despite the fact that it normally takes a heck of a lot for me to cry during books, I did feel myself welling up at the unfairness of the entire situation.
However, despite the fact that it was a sad book, it was also very inspiring. Ciera’s positive attitude is infectious, and the way she grabs life by the horns with her bucket list made me want to start doing more exciting things with my life, suddenly gripped with an unshakable desire to go camping. Similarly, the discussion about what it’s like for the people we love after we go definitely made me think, and I thought it was a definite positive thing that it was a dual perspective novel, because it was good to get the insight from Ciera of how the illness was affecting her, but also from Topher and how the illness and the draining of her life affected him, too.
A lot of people have compared this book to ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ by John Green because of the doomed love story element, but I actually think it has a lot more in common with ‘Before I Die’ by Jenny Downham (also known as ‘Now Is Good’ after it was adapted into a film). In ‘Before I Die’, a teenage girl is dying with cancer, so she writes a bucket list and attempts to complete it all before her time comes, falling in love with her hunky attractive neighbour in the process. I got a lot of the same vibes I felt during that novel throughout this one, but because ‘Learning To Live’ was only one hundred and fifty pages I didn’t feel as attached to the characters, so I didn’t feel so emotional when the eventual death of Ciera came around.
Despite the fact that I really did like this book, I did still have some issues with it. Ciera decided to set her death day at February 20th, so after we know that her and Topher are completely in love with each other I thought that maybe we would have a super romantic and soul-crushing Valentine’s Day meal scene, but that didn’t happen, which left me feeling slightly flat. Furthermore, Mack and Topher seemed to be making progress when they found out that Ciera was dying, but then when Topher took her and her family to Disneyworld, Mack didn’t even get a mention, and then from there on to the end of the book we didn’t even get a scene of him saying goodbye to her. If Mack really was in love with her, and they’d been best friends for years, it would have been extremely emotional to see a scene between the two of them, possibly with him announcing his feelings and them coming to terms with the fact that they would be separated. There were also quite a few grammatical errors throughout this book, but it didn’t annoy me as much as it normally would have because the book was a quick read, so it didn’t interrupt my flow too badly.
This book was only released yesterday, and it’s definitely worth giving it a read because it is always interesting reading about how love can transform, and apart from the serious nature this is actually quite a light read – Ciera has a bubbly personality that flows from the page and her positive spin on her traumatic situation definitely makes it easier to look on the bright side of live. It is more of a New Adult novel than a Young Adult novel, so if you’re a strong advocate that there should never be sex scenes in YA this is not the kind of book that you should read, and that’s the only case that I wouldn’t recommend picking it up and giving it a try. Be warned, Topher’s personality at the start of the novel is very abrasive and definitely rubbed me up the wrong way, but keep on with it because it gets better after the first fifty or so pages. If you read ‘Learning To Live’ and enjoy it, I would also suggest picking up the next book in the series, ‘My Forever’, which focuses upon Madalynne and Parker, and I haven’t looked up the other two novels in the series for fear of getting spoilers, but I’m sure I’ll be continuing on with it eventually.