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.
Best Bits: Am I allowed to say that I really didn't like Alice? You might be thinking something along the lines of "wait, why is this in the best bits?" That's a valid question. I think it's pretty brave of an author to make a character that is relatively difficult to like for over half the book. She makes questionable choices, and while she takes down the people who have hurt her in some way, it isn't all that satisfying for the reader. The thing is, I didn't need to like her to understand her. She's basically grieved the life that she had lived, and had accepted that she was going to die. To suddenly be faced with a future that you never believed you would have has got to be jarring and frightening. That's why, every time she pushed Harvey away, or let anger take over, I got it. I wasn't cheering, but it was realistic.
This also played well when contrasted to Harvey. I felt for him, I really did. He cares for Alice so deeply that he's just along for the ride. He participates in activities that make him feel uncomfortable for the sake of helping Alice with her bucket list (this occasionally includes revenge), and it takes a lot for him to say enough is enough. We get to see the opposite side of things, he hasn't accepted that Alice is dying in the past, and when he finds out that she is going to live he expects her to be happy and relieved (like he is). Murphy managed to juggle both characters pov's in the past and present without it feeling too overwhelming, and that's saying a lot since I don't really like switching back and forth.
Nit Picks: My nitpick for this one has to do with the romance. I won't spoil it for anyone, so this will be a rather vague and confusing nit pick (this is why we shouldn't write reviews late in the evening). The book ended in a way that leaves it clear to the reader if they're going to be together or not. I think after all that had happened between them it would have been okay with an open-ending, since both characters had a lot of growing to do, and a lot to work out.
Side Effects May Vary
By Julie Murphy
Published by Balzer + Bray