Review: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Why I picked up the book: Ever since The Fault in Our Stars came out, I have been a sucker for cancer books. The early reviews for this novel came out, and I was hooked. I MUST READ THIS BOOK. MY HEART HAS NOT BEEN BROKEN IN AGES. Little did I know this book stands alone in the world of cancer books. It was refreshing, heartbreaking, and so damn thought provoking. I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publish Date: March 18, 2014
Format: Kindle/ARC
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary/Realistic Fiction

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, who 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 archnemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger). 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 caused 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. (Goodreads)
Four Things You Need to Know:

1. This is not your typical cancer book. This book is messy, but in such a good way. Going into it, I expected the typical boy meets girl story in which they fight the cancer together and end with tissues and chocolate and angrily shouting into the literary void. While there were a few tears, there was a lot of feelings for Alice, Harvey, and the angsty issues they continually battle. These battles are not easily resolved, nor are they painted in a pretty way. These are real battles that are ugly, raw, and filled with truth. 

2. Alice is not your strong heroine. She’s your everyday heroine. Oh Alice. You crazy, broken, spirit-filled teenager. I felt for you, I so did. I was angry with you, but I understood you. I’ve noticed in several reviews people have commented that they didn’t care for Alice. I loved her. I’ll be honest, at times Alice is a straight up vindictive bitch (and gloriously so). If she’s going to die, she is going down in a blaze of glory. She wants the final word, the last chance to right all the wrongs that have been done to her and to those that she loves.

Are her methods the best? Nope. Not at all. Alice is selfish, manipulative, and thinks only of herself. I found it so interesting to read a character that was dying and not being glorified or self-sacrificing in their demise. The thing about teenage girls is that many readers forget that they are human. They are flawed. Alice was probably more normal than most dying characters I’ve read. She represents the ugly parts of humanity, the ones that come out in times of pain and stress. What was even better was watching her live with the choices she made. 

3.  Living with consequences. Like I said above, half of the book is Alice learning to live with the mistakes she has made. She hurt a lot of people, and even damaged her heart in the process. Sometimes, death is the easy route, and Alice learns that being strong means living with the life you have created. While her growth as a character is slow, you do see her come around. The one thing I wanted was more resolution. I wanted to see Alice healed, not healing. 

4. Dual POV/ Before and After. The one thing that was a tiny bit confusing was initially getting used to the dual POV, along with “then” and “now” chapters that are scattered throughout the book. I enjoyed that I was able to see Harvey in the midst of all of this--because Alice’s actions didn’t just hurt herself, they hurt Harvey. Initially I was concerned that Harvey was going to take the role of “friendzoned nice guy”, but he does so much more. He stands up for himself (eventually),  loves Alice, but ultimately, loves himself and knows what he deserves. 

Final Thoughts:

This book was really good. I was expecting more “fluff” but was pleasantly surprised with how much thought and feeling were put in the book.

I gave the book four stars on Goodreads.  

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