Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy
Balzar+Bray (an imprint if Harper Teen), 336 pages
Expected US Release Date: March 18, 2014
Format/Source: ARC via Around the World Tours - thank you!
Challenges: Debut Author Challenge, Standalone Challenge
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.
"You never surprise me, Alice, which is such a disappointment"
I got a little scared when I first started reading this because I’d literally JUST finished Maybe One Day by Melissa Kantor (read my review here!). Cancer books that incorporate best friends, dance, and boys? I loved Maybe One Day, and I was terrified Side Effects May Vary wouldn’t compare.
So, even though I listed all those similarities, that is definitely where the commonalities end. Side Effects May Vary has this fantastically different tone to it, one complete unique to a “cancer” book. It’s a bit…blunt, for lack of a better word. Alice is unforgiving and a bit cavalier, and I love it. She’s funny and learning what it’s like to live with consequences after a life without them. It’s refreshing, and a wonderful difference from the typical “girl gets sick” book.
I also loved that we get Harvey’s point-of-view, as well as both a Then and Now reference. It makes the book incredibly interesting on an entirely different level. I’m wary of non-linear plots, but in this case, it works. And it works WELL. There’s so much to be learned and pieced together as we go back and forth between points of view and times, and it really engaged me that way.
It does help that Harvey is a fantastic character and sweet boy, too. I love getting his view on the situation, seeing his thoughts and how he affected Alice—both in sickness and in health. He’s a little bad and mostly good, and so human it really brings him alive. He’s got so many emotions that he feels so wholly, I really felt like he was a real person that I was talking with or watching live through these things.
I love the premise of this book. I love the idea of a girl with cancer getting her revenge on those who wronged her, who is living life without consequences. And that she gets to suffer the backlash of it too…it’s so vivid and different. So much of this book is original, and I loved every moment.
Funnily enough, I really liked Alice as a character, but wasn’t too fond of her as a personality—which really just speaks for Julie Murphy’s talent as a writer to make me not like her and like her at the same time. There are parts of Alice that I don’t quite like, that I find to be a little too rough around the edges; but that’s just my own personality. I always think of main characters in terms of if I would be friends with the person, and I’m not certain I would be with Alice. But as a reader, I love how strong she is as a character, how full her personality is. I’m really taken with her throughout her ordeal of cancer and remission.
Side Effects May Vary was a wonderfully unique novel, with strong characters and a humor-and heart-filled plot. There’s so much to learn from this novel (you should have seen how many post-its I had at the end!), so much to love and laugh with. It really made me think about living without fear but with effects.