Review: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Saturday, February 22, 2014
Title: Side Effects May Vary
Author: Julie Murphy
Genre: young adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 336
Published: expected March 18 2014
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3/5

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.
The lovely Ashley from yAdult Review was so right when she pointed out that readers will either love or hate Julie Murphy's debut novel Side Effects May Vary. It's just that kind of book, and Alice is that kind of difficult protagonist. For myself, I loved parts of this, and moderately tolerated others. It can be funny, sad, honest, and overwrought. It's full of a wide spectrum of emotion, be it positive or negative. I also really enjoyed that this author explored a different angle for a cancer patient story -- what happens when you're prepared to die.. and you don't? -- and I thought Side Effects was a realistic representation of how a confused, angry teenage girl might feel in that situation.

I enjoyed prickly Alice for the most part (unlikeable heroines that evoke pathos = the best), but I have to admit I lost my heart to Harvey early on. Besides the Cancer Stuff, Side Effects is largely an exploration of the relationship between the two narrators. Alice is almost Summers-esque in her difficultness. She can be selfish, unlikeable, and hard to understand. But Murphy characterizes her so well that you can at least understand Alice, if not grow to like her. BUT BUT BUT Harvey. I love Harvey. He is easily the best character in the entire novel. He may be a tad too perfect, but I loved his contrast with Alice, his openheartedness, and his eventual growth into a more mature, independent person.

I wanted to come away from this feeling all the feels, but besides a few swoons for Harvey and a few laughs, Side Effects May Vary didn't really impact me on that deep of a level. I liked the story (for the most part) but it never emerged into a favorite for me. It may just be too short, or the outcome too obvious, but I just don't think it was as meaningful as I had expected. For the most part, this novel felt fresh and original, and as unlike as The Fault in Our Stars as two cancer books can be. I would be interested to see what Murphy writes after this.

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