Side Effects May Vary
by Julie Murphy
Publication Date: 18 March 2014
Balzer + Bray, Hardcover, 330 pages
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 vowsto spend her final months righting wrongs—however she sees fit. She convinces her friend Harvey, who 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 archnemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger). 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 caused 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.
DNF at 44% (Pg. 144)
I tried to like Side Effects May Vary, I honestly did. Despite reading numerous negative reviews about it, after reading this rare diamond of a review on Goodreads, I wanted to be able to enjoy this book so much. I knew from the beginning Alice would not be a likable protagonist. I thought that should be okay because it could make the story more realistic. However, what I did not expect was a completely selfish and cowardly MC.
Alice was the major reason why I could no longer continue with Side Effects May Vary. The other characters – especially her parents and Harvey – were all pretty spectacular and the writing was lovely, but it was not enough to convince me to go on with it. Alice. Where do I start? Yes, her situation had been devastating and I understood why she felt she should settle her ‘debts’ before kicking the bucket, but it was how she had acted after going into remission that irked me.
It was painfully obvious, even early on in the book, that Harvey was a near-perfect guy friend. Not Prince Charming perfect – he still had his own faults – but the sort of perfect guy any girl would be insanely lucky to meet. Patient, understanding yet knowing the limits when Alice’s acts of revenge went too far, Harvey was simply an amazingly sweet guy. So imagine my utter hatred for Alice when she treats him like dirt. I get that as humans, we all sometimes treat those who loves us most crappily. However, with Alice, she knows she’s always taking advantage of Harvey’s kindness and despite claiming to be guilty over that, she does nothing at all to change her ways.
Maybe Alice’s awfulness was intentional and maybe later on in the book, she would realize that she’d been taking the coward’s road in life after entering remission and go around amending all her malicious deeds. In all honestly though, I couldn’t care less after suffering through 144 pages of this novel. Admittedly, the structure of the story-telling did not help either, with the ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ chapter breaks. The duo perspectives I didn’t mind but the past and present narration had been rather confusing and annoying. I’ve read books with similar arrangements that successfully pulled it off (Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver) and unfortunately in this case, it did not.
All in all, I enjoyed the writing style and secondary characters quite a lot in Side Effects May Vary but the protagonist turned me off too much, which ultimately prevented me from finishing the book. Would I recommend this? No, I will not. Though if you’re the sort who can overlook a loathsome main character, then by all means give it a shot!