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.
(Summary from GoodReads)
Side Effects May Vary was one of my most anticipated releases of the year. The premise sounded fascinating to me and the earliest readers had nothing but positive things to say. Murphy’s debut was tougher to read than I expected—she is brutally honest about the effects of chemotherapy and how difficult Alice can be. I loved Side Effects May Vary not just for its candor, but also its gorgeous prose and sweet love interest.
Murphy’s novel is told from two points of view, both in the past and the present, and I don’t think there was an order to how she switched time or character. While I know some readers found this confusing, I liked this format of telling the story. It flowed smoothly the entire time, and the pieces from Alice and Harvey’s past are part of what got me so invested in their story.
Alice is going to be labeled a lot as an unlikable character. At times she’s selfish and cruel, and she’s uncertain about how to deal with a lot of the emotions she feels: anger, grief, love. I have to wonder if some readers will see some of their worse qualities in her, and resent her as a result. I definitely had moments where I connected to her lower points, but for me, that was what made her such a solid character that has a place in young adult literature. She knows she can be terrible and wonders if and how she can get better, and I know readers of every age will be able to relate to this question the same way I did.
On the flipside, Harvey is totally lovable. He’s sweet, caring, and patient, throughout everything Alice goes through, but he’s never a doormat. Does he deserve better than Alice? Yes. Is his love for her unconditional anyways? Yes. Harvey is the type of person that we would all love to have in our lives, yet so few of us deserve.
What cemented this as a book I must own in hardcover is Murphy’s prose. So many passages were potent with emotion, and sometimes all of the confused emotions that Alice and Harvey felt. The imagery and metaphors she used always felt so right. I’m really looking forward to see how Murphy’s prose develops in future books that she writes.
I would tell you that Murphy’s book is a standout debut, but it is a standout. Period. I loved that Alice was a hard but relatable character for me to read about. I loved Harvey and the complicated romance. I loved Murphy’s prose. And the ending to this one was just absolutely perfect. In short, you should buy this now while I eagerly await all of Murphy’s upcoming books.
Disclosure: I received a digital galley of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review, but plan to buy a hardcover soon.