Side Effects May Vary
Author: Julie Murphy
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Number of Pages: 336
Release Date: March 18, 2014
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.
When I first heard about this book, I immediately wrote it off as yet another cancer book (of which there have been way too many lately), but then I finally read the synopsis and realized that this one is a bit different. Instead of yet another weep-y story of a friend, or a couple, losing his/her best friend/love of their life, this book follows a girl who gets a second chance at life when her leukemia goes into remission. Alice is terrified of this second chance, however, because she's been burning bridges left and right in the belief that she is about to die. I haven't read any reviews for this one yet, but I've seen snippets of conversations through GR updates and Twitter convos. People really seem to either be loving or hating this one. I didn't think it was perfect, but I really enjoyed it. I loved how we got to see both Alice and Harvey's side of the story, and I loved how the time line went back in forth between the time Alice was sick (before) to the present when she is trying to get on with her life.
I'm going to go ahead and address the biggest complaint I've seen which is that Alice is a mean girl. Frankly, that just isn't how I saw her. I understood Alice and, while I didn't always like her actions, I understood why she was acting like she was. There are a handful of people to whom Alice isn't "nice." The first is her frenemy turned enemy Celeste. Celeste and Alice have always been competitors. The two are always the ones up for major roles in their ballet studio, but they've tried to maintain a fake friendship. Until Alice finds out that Celeste has been sleeping with her boyfriend, Luke. After that all bets are off. I kind of loved how Alice gets revenge on both Celeste and Luke.
The second person who Alice struggles with is her mom. Right before Alice found out that she has leukemia, Alice catches her mom having an affair on her father. Alice never confesses to seeing the man in her parent's bedroom (through the window), but she cannot forget what she saw. I cannot even imagine having to carry around the burden of knowing that your parent has cheated. I understood why Alice struggled to maintain a normal relationship with her parents which is hard enough when you are a teenager without the extra weight of an affair and being terminally ill!
Finally there is Harvey. Harvey is head-over-heels in love with Alice and has been for years. While Alice starts to let Harvey in while she is sick, she begins to push him away the minute she finds out she is going to live. Alice does not in any way treat Harvey the way he deserves to be treated. She uses him constantly. She knows that he is in love with her and consistently uses that to her advantage. She keeps him on tether hooks. It's appalling. So why am I not outraged? Well, because Alice is a teen girl. She is the type of snooty teen girl who believes the world revolves around her. She thought she was going to die before her 18 birthday, and then found out that she will probably live. She has been pumped full of poison for months, her hair has fallen out, she is constantly in pain, she is carrying the burden of her mother's affair. I think it's understandable if she can only think about herself. Even though she's in remission, the doctors have no idea whether or not the cancer will come back. They don't even know what made it go into remission. I can imagine it is hard for a teen girl to give her heart freely when she has no idea what tomorrow will bring.
There were so many things I really enjoyed about this book. Again, the dual narration and the scattered timeline were excellent. I loved Harvey, he was a little unbelievably too good, but it's fiction, boys in fiction are almost always a little better than they are in real life. I loved how close the two families were. Alice and Harvey were pretty much raised together because Alice's parents and Harvey's mom have always been very close themselves. I loved that the parents were present in their lives, but not perfect.
While this isn't really a complaint because I enjoyed this book, it is kind of misleading to call this one a "bucket-list" book. Alice does have a couple of things up her sleeve in terms of revenge against aforementioned kids at school, but it's not like a: 1. ride in a hot air balloon type of bucket list.
So, again, I think this is one you will enjoy or you won't. I really enjoyed it, and think Alice should be viewed with some compassion. It's very different from the long list of cancer books being published right now which I really appreciated. Highly recommend.
*I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange of an honest review.*