Title: Side Effects May Vary

Author: Julie Murphy ♥ @andimjulie

March 18, 2014

Publisher: Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins

Pages: 336

Genre(s): Young Adult ♥ Contemporary ♥ Romance

Source: Edelweiss

Summary 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.

Average Goodreads Rating (as of 03/18/2014): 3.76

  • Christina thought this title was different than your normal YA cancer-themed book. It goes on her 3rd shelf.

**SPECIAL NOTE:** An eARC of this title was provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. However, that did not influence this review in any way. All thoughts, quotes, and opinions will be of this version and not of the published edition.

Initial Thoughts and Rating:
3 stars!
Part of me wants to give this a lower rating because I really just did not like the female protagonist in this story, but my love for the hero, Harvey, and how the author writes wouldn’t let me go any lower. If I would have liked Alice half as much as I loved Harvey, this book would have gotten a way higher rating from me.

The Lowdown: Alice is a strong-willed, fierce sort of girl that has trouble losing, facing fears, and letting her feelings be known. When she’s diagnosed with cancer, the prognosis is grim and that’s only further evident after rounds of chemotherapy prove to be hurting her more than healing her. Cancer has a way of making even happy people bitter, but with a cold heart like Alice’s, it makes the chip on her shoulder as big as a boulder. So, she sets about constructing a bucket list- one that contains participating in normal teenage experiences she’s yet to do, others are nostalgia related, but mostly it’s filled with revenge. Besides, there’s nothing like righting a few wrongs before she kicks it. Refusing any more treatment and with death being a the forethought of her mind, Alice enlists the help of her former best friend to help her carry out her last life’s mission.

Harvey has been in love with Alice ever since he was thirteen years old and he could put a name to the feelings she awoke in him, but probably even longer than that. With their parents being friends, they were thrown together at every turn as kids, and he was always happy to play follower to Alice and her sassy demands even from a very young age. But then high school caused them to drift apart, so no one is more surprised than him when she’s suddenly back in his life; however, it comes with a cost. She has cancer and he has to watch her die slowly. Yet, he decides even a few short months or a year or two of being in her company, seeing her smile, and learning to love her more is better than nothing at all. So, he helps her with her bucket list and they grow closer than ever. So close, in fact, that one night she tells him she’ll miss him most and though she doesn’t say it outright, she tells him she loves him, too. Harvey had never thought he could be happier or more angry in one solitary moment. Cancer may have given Alice back to him, but it would also be the very thing to take her away as well.

But then something miraculous happens, Alice’s cancer goes into remission and it seems like they might have forever together. And that scares Alice more than dying did.

I had Harvey, and I had him for good. Hadn’t that been all I wanted? To make those perfect moments last? But now I felt trapped, like a homeless person who’d been given their dream home only to suffer from intense wanderlust because we always want something until we have it.
~quote taken from eARC of Side Effects May Vary at 20%

Side Effects May Vary is told in alternating first person point-of-views of Alice and Harvey from the now (when Alice’s cancer is in remission) and then (when Alice first learned she had cancer and through all of her treatment). It follows their strange tug-o-war romance and how they both grow and concede and bend and change to better themselves so that they can build a healthier relationship.

My Thoughts: This has been one of the more difficult reviews I’ve had to write because my feelings over the book and its characters are wholly conflicting. I liked that this novel was different from your typical YA “cancer” plot, where it happens to the good girl/guy and the story is poignant and beautiful. In this book, Alice isn’t sweet and while she’s accepting of her fate, she’s not going down without taking a few “assholes and bitches” down with her. I liked her fighting attitude, but I really didn’t like her. And I really wanted to, really tried to understand her. So, while I liked the book, ultimately,  it’s hard to fall in love with a book when you dislike a main character so much and you’re in their head a majority of the time. A large portion of my distaste for her character is directly linked to the way that she treated Harvey. I adored his character and,  quite frankly, I don’t think she ever deserved the tender moments or swoony sweetness he offered up to her regularly. In fact, she used the love he had for her knowingly, manipulating him time and time again to get him to do her bidding, and then she would cast him aside and throw it in his face that he was being used. That really broke my heart for him and hardened it against her. Cancer is an ugly disease, but it doesn’t make the victim ugly; that already has to be inside the person long before the illness ever takes hold. More than anything, I was sad that she kept disappointing Harvey and me. I will say that her redemption came at the very end of the book, but by that time, it would’ve taken a whole second book to recover from all the mistakes she made throughout this one.

I leaned across the center console and gave him a kiss on the cheek. That was exactly what I need to keep Harvey in reach. Not too close, but still in my line of sight. 
~quote taken from eARC of Side Effects May Vary at 28%

Another issue I had with this novel was how it was constructed, with the dual POVs and the constant jumping from past to present. I had to make a mental note at the beginning of every chapter about which character was speaking and where we were at on the timeline of their relationship. One or the other, preferably the dual POV because I liked being in Harvey’s head, would have been better suited for this particular book, in my opinion. Additionally, I think a more linear approach would have allowed me to connect better with Alice, and maybe even sympathized with her more.

All that being said, there was something about they author’s writing that really pulled me in and held my attention. Even when I was beyond frustrated with Alice, I couldn’t help but turn the pages and be further engrossed by the storyline. I also really like how she handled the dynamics and complexity of school life, friendships, and family through her characters with a practiced, honest edge. It really brought a sense of balance to the book and how disease can effect more than the person involved, but that life still goes on all around those people no matter how it seems like life should be falling apart.

♥ Swoons: It was interesting to see the guy yearning for the girl’s attention in a young adult book (it doesn’t happen often in the books I read), and we even get a front row seat to it here. Harvey’s swoons don’t come directly from his mouth, it’s often in the words he doesn’t say to Alice rather thinks about her, and how he cares for her even when he shouldn’t.

Swoony teaser: 

“I’ve missed kissing you,” he said.
~quote taken from eARC of Side Effects May Vary at 41%

Rec It? It’s hard to say, really. I guess it all just comes down to whether or not the summary speaks to you. It was a fresh take on a cancer-based plot, but my lack of love for Alice makes this a hard one to suggest to others. I do know that I’ll definitely be looking into the author’s future works because I like her prose and she obviously knows how to write a swoony hero.

A very special thanks to Balzer + Bray & Edelweiss for providing me with an early copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.


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