Release Date: March 18, 2014
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?
I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Whoa. Twelve hours after finishing it, I’m still sitting here thinking about this book. Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy is a wild ride and, I must say, is nothing like what I was expecting. When I saw that it was about a girl, Alice, who is diagnosed with leukemia at the age of sixteen, I assumed it would be an emotional book (or at least tug at my heartstrings a little bit). Imagine my surprise when I didn’t tear up a single time (and trust me, I cry over everything). In the first half of the book, I actually found it difficult to be sympathetic for Alice. She’s so awful to the people who love her—particularly her friend Harvey, who went above and beyond the call of duty for her. For this reason, I was initially pretty skeptical about Side Effects May Vary. However, the second part of the book completely won me over, along with Murphy’s beautiful writing.
When Alice finds out that her health is rapidly declining due to her body’s rejection of the chemo, she decides she has some scores she’d like to settle. While most people want to set things right before they die, Alice can focus on only one thing: revenge. And whew boy, she certainly thinks up some crazy ways to exact this revenge (the craziness alone is worth reading the book). It’s no spoiler when I say that her cancer goes into remission (it’s in the book’s summary). Alice’s reaction to this? Anger! She’s actually enraged that she is going to live because that means she must live with the consequences of her actions. Crazy, right?
Obviously, this is unlike the contemps that I typically love—books with sweet romances or great friendships. I have to confess that I disliked Alice so much in the beginning that I was already dreading the negative review that I was going to have to write for Side Effects May Vary. However, something clicked when I was about halfway through the book, and I started to understand some of the reasons that she did the things she did (or said). Alice is a very flawed character, and while I never truly liked her, I appreciated the way that Murphy created this original character that definitely lingers in your mind long after you finish the book. And then there’s poor Harvey. As we Southerners like to say, bless his heart! I adored him from beginning to end, felt sorry for him, and wanted to shake some sense into him all at the same time. He’s definitely a character worth meeting.
There is one other thing I didn’t love about the book: the story is told in first person point-of-view from both Alice and Harvey, but it doesn’t consistently alternate between them. In addition, it jumps back and forth between the then and now. Murphy doesn’t follow a specific pattern that I can discern, so the story seemed to jump around all over the place. I know this was Murphy’s intent, and it resulted in a very good book. It’s just more or less a personal preference on my part I think. I prefer a little bit more stability when a book is told in dual narration.
In my opinion, the most important thing about Side Effects May Vary is that we readers are introduced to Julie Murphy’s brilliant writing. As you can see from the few quotes that I included below, Murphy has a way of describing a feeling or a thought in such a way that it really has an impact. I honestly cannot wait to get my hands on her future books to read more of her gorgeous writing. While I probably won’t be listing this book as a favorite, I definitely enjoyed it and thought it was a great (and very original) debut. I will probably be re-reading Side Effects May Vary again in the future (after my thoughts percolate a little longer!), because I really think that it’s one of those books that I will like even more the second time around.
“In a deep corner of myself that scared even me, I thought that maybe if the cancer did come back it might not be so bad. I knew how to die. It was the living that scared me.”
“Sometimes love is so intense that it turns into this gray area that borders on hate. That’s what happens when the people you love have that type of power on you.”
“I’d always heard that when you truly love someone, you’re happy for them as long as they’re happy. But that’s a lie. That’s higher-road bullshit. If you love someone so much, why the hell would you be happy to see them with anyone else? I didn’t want the easy kind of love. I wanted crazy love, the kind of love that created and destroyed all at the same time.”