I received this book for free from 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
Also by this author: Dumplin'
Published by Harper Collins on March 18th 2014
Genres: Young Adult, Love & Romance, Social Issues, Death & Dying, Adolescence
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For fans of John Green and Rainbow Rowell comes this powerful novel about a girl with cancer who creates a take-no-prisoners bucket list that sets off a war at school—only to discover she's gone into remission.
When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs. So she convinces her best friend, Harvey, to help her with a crazy bucket list that's as much about revenge as it is about hope. But just when Alice's scores are settled, she goes into remission, and now she must face the consequences of all she's said and done. Contemporary realistic-fiction readers who love romantic stories featuring strong heroines will find much to savor in this standout debut.
I get nervous when a book is pitched as The Fault In Our Stars meets Sarah Dessen. I mean, how can a book even live up to a comparison like that? Fortunately, when I picked up Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy, I was able to clear the comparisons from my head and take the book on it’s own merits. Right off the bat, I can tell you that Murphy’s debut is not going to appeal to everyone. It’s another one of those cancer books. Only, with this book, the main character, Alice doesn’t die but instead goes into remission. Side Effects May Vary is excellent in that it shows the complexities of human nature and is beautiful and moving and brimming to the top with emotions. In fact, you could probably describe this book as mood and depending on who you are RESULTS MAY VARY.
Alice was not expecting to go into remission. So, she’s been living her life like her expiration date is about to come up. She’s gotten revenge on Luke and Celeste, two people who were incredibly awful to her. She’s done something unexpectedly kind for a stranger, and she experienced a blast from the past. When she goes to the oncologist and discovers that she’s going to live, that the cancer’s gone, Alice has that reaction of oh, shit because she really has been living out her life without consequences. Now, Alice has to confront her feelings for Harvey, her childhood best friend, and also face consequences for the things that she has done. Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy is told in a unique style, with points of view alternating between Alice and Harvey and the timeline alternating between then which is pre-remission, and now which is post-remission. THIS BOOK, THOUGH. Trust, when I say that’s really, really good, no matter how convoluted I make the plot and summary sound.
Probably the main thing that I knew about Side Effects May Vary going in, aside from the cancer subject matter, is that main character Alice is unlikable. I’ve read a lot of reviews where people just find her off putting. And that’s where I think that you may or may not like this book. Personally, I got Alice’s character and she reacts like a teenager and in ways that don’t shock me. Like, she is really, really awful to Harvey. However, this is a girl who has just been through something as horrific as cancer. She’s made her peace with dying. She’s done things because she felt like there wouldn’t be consequences for them. And so, she’s scared of facing what happens next. She’s scared of committing to Harvey because what if the remission is only temporary. What if she dies? I just, I really get her whole modus operandi for pushing people away. And so, I could not dislike Alice. Instead, I felt an outpouring of empathy for her. She’s got a hard road to walk and well, reading this, I totally get her actions and why she does the bad things that she does.
Harvey, the other main character, is a counterbalance to Alice. He does not do awful things. He’s like a moral compass, actually. If you are that sort of reader who LOVES nice guys, like me, you’ll love Harvey. He’s just so solid and good. His situation is this: his mom owns a dance studio, Harvey plays piano for her, and he does not know his dad. He has been in love with Alice for pretty much forever. Alice, however, does not love him and is totally playing games with his heart (heyoooo BSB). Yet, when Alice gets cancer, she treats Harvey differently and he finds a place back in her life. After remission though, she pushes him away again. And well, this story is about how Harvey finds his backbone and his voice. It’s really about two teenagers learning how to treat each other.
Murphy’s writing style was perfect for a reader like me. In fact, there is this scene that I loved so much that I had to instagram it. She has this way of capturing a scene or an emotion and just making it perfect and putting it into my mind with her words so that there is this absolute clarity. This isn’t an easy book. The characters are not always likable. The subject matter is a tough one. But, oh man, Side Effects May Vary was SUCH an April book. Totally recommended, y’all.