Publisher: HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray
Release Date: March 18, 2015
Rating: 3 out of 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.
– Review –
I’m not one of those people who are drawn towards books geared at cancer–neither am I the type of person who shies away from it. I went into Side Effects May Vary knowing that there may be many tears shed, or none at all. In this case, Side Effects May Vary fell in between happy and sad. It didn’t wow me, but it gave me lots to ponder for sure.
Side Effects May Vary is a story that is centralized heavily around the two main characters, Alice and Harvey. The reader is able to get both of their perspectives, present and past, which I thought was an approach well done by Murphy. To start off, I want to discuss Alice. Typically when I read about cancer-ridden characters, they become reckless people after being diagnosed with cancer, knowing that they only have a limited amount of time to live. It’s completely understandable, and that’s what we get from Alice. She’s also sassy and hollow at some points, and that’s where the exception comes in. It’s almost as if she is excused from being rude or impatient, or irresponsible. Alice is all sorts of negative, but I couldn’t bring myself to dislike her. When reading the story, I knew that somewhere along the way, she would learn. I couldn’t sympathize with her, but I was really emotionally connected to her in the sense that I wanted her to become a better person.
Harvey, on the other hand, evoked different emotions from me. He’s Alice’s best friend, who is also in love with her. I see him as this poor puppy who keeps going after something he can’t have. Harvey is sweet, caring, and completely able to be dragged along. For this reason, I didn’t like him. Some people may call him persevering and hopeful, but he seemed really weak to me, doing whatever Alice wanted him to do. I wanted him to be stronger and stand up for himself; nevertheless, he didn’t.
Even though not all of the characters were necessarily likeable, I was still really intrigued by them both. Murphy has this way of making their characterization very complex and realistic. Both Alice and Harvey felt very human to me. Other than the characters, the plot was not action-packed; in fact, it was pretty mediocre, but I think it is adequate in allowing the characters to reveal every side of them that exists.
I have to admit that the ending to Side Effects May Varywas… disappointing. Does Alice die? Or does she live? I’ll let you find that out, but from me, I can say that I wish Murphy gave us readers more.
In all, Side Effects May Vary is not the best “cancer-book” I’ve ever read, but it’s definitely something. There’s that spark that’s steadily growing brighter in Murphy’s writing career for sure! Murphy is able to create these characters who aren’t entirely likable, but are definitely able to be appreciated because of their complexity. I’m looking forward to Murphy’s future stories for sure!
– About the Author –
Julie lives in North Texas with her husband who loves her, her dog who adores her, and her cat who tolerates her. When she’s not writing or trying to catch stray cats, she works at an academic library. Side Effects May Vary is Julie’s debut novel.
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