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 16-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, 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.
©2014 Julie Murphy (P)2014 HarperCollins Publishers
I'm an audiobook addict and blog about books at The Reading Date. My favorite genres are YA, New Adult, Fiction & Memoirs.
What’s the Story? - Julie Murphy’s debut Side Effects May Vary is an unconventional cancer book, with an unpleasant protagonist. What happens when you’re supposed to die, and you even complete your bucket list, but you beat the odds and survive? How do you live with the decisions you made when you thought you were dying?
Petulant Protagonist - Much of your reading experience will depend on how you react to Alice as a character. She is difficult to say the least. She uses her cancer bucket list as a way to exact revenge on her jerk of an ex (Luke) and her adversary (Celeste) that stole him. I don’t mind flawed characters and I appreciate the unconventional approach Murphy takes with Alice’s character- she makes a cancer patient unsympathetic. But personally I thought Alice’s character made this book a chore to read at times.
Time (Clock of the Heart) – Side Effects has a “Now” and “Then” device, that illustrates where we are now (cancer remission), and how we got there with then (living with cancer, bucket list). Time jumps between now and then, introducing pieces of the puzzle to put together throughout the book.
He Said, She Said - In addition to the now and then story structure, Side Effects features dual perspective, with Alice and Harvey (her long-suffering friend/love interest) taking alternate chapters. This was a good choice for this book. Alice and Harvey don’t have the best communication so being in their heads allow us to see where they’re coming from.
Love Story - Alice and Harvey grew up together since their parents are best friends. Harvey loves Alice and she strings him along for much of the book. They are not best friends or boyfriend-girlfriend, but something undefinable that makes for a messy, misunderstood relationship. I can’t say I shipped this pairing and I wanted so much more for good guy Harvey.
Mean Girls - This is probably the first revenge/cancer book I’ve read, and the pranks in this book take a page right out of Carrie.
Ballerina out of Control - Another activity that links Alice and Harvey is ballet. Harvey’s mom runs a dance studio, where Alice danced and Harvey played piano. Alice is a gifted dancer, but isn’t sure if she wants to stick with it. Now that she’s well, can she find her way back to the studio?
Reach for the Stars – Alice and Harvey have some growing to do in this book. Alice has to learn to live now that she has the opportunity, and Harvey also has to decide if he can move on from Alice, or what if any relationship they can have. There is character growth, and it’s realistically portrayed. Nothing is going to come easy for these two or change overnight, and that’s okay.
Listen to this audiobook and call me in the morning -Cassandra Campbell made the voice of Alice a little more palatable. Though Alice’s words and actions are harmful at times, Campbell’s performance is fair to the character and she doesn’t make her sound like a monster. You could feel her emotional struggle and torment in her voice. Kirby Heyborne’s Harvey performance is gentle like the character, and matures over the course of the book. Heyborne is a good choice for nice guy characters, though he is certainly capable of conveying the frustration and intensity of the character as well. Though the performances were satisfying, this is not a book I wanted to listen to all the time, due to the nature of the story.
I can definitely see the comparison that some people might make to The Fault in Our Stars but really – I have to say that the two books actually make me feel two completely different types of feelings. Side Effects May Vary felt..raw to me – real in the realist sense. High school – full of mean people and teenage life in general – can suck. Add in cancer, some other real life situations, and one of those complicated best friend relationships. You can see why Alice is spiraling out of control (and trust me, she is).
This book is gritty – it’s ugly-pretty. Half of the time I was so mad at teenagers being teenagers and the other half I was just plain disappointed in the decisions that they were making. The only other book that has recently made me feel that way is The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp. It’s like I wanted to shake these characters and ask them why they were doing what they were doing and how could they be so blind?
Side Effects May Vary made me feel passion for life and living, and sadness for those living it in such a self-destructive way. This book is heart-wrenching but not in the way most people think of the word. I recommend picking it up when you’re in the mood for something a little bit heavier.
This is probably the most unlikeable heroine I've had to listen to in a long time. (At least we expected Kathy and Heathcliffe to be awful.) It was painful to listen to and in the long run, not worth my time.
I don't know why anyone would attempt a YA novel about cancer patients after John Green's "Fault in Our Stars". Just give up.
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