Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Posted March 12, 2014 by Sara | Novel Novice 1 Comment


Whereas most YA novels about teens with cancer turn tragic, Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy shows the unexpected challenges of a more hopeful outcome.

side effects may varyWhat 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.

It was nice, for a change, to see a book about a teen with cancer that isn’t about the tragedy and anger of letting go. While these moments are woven throughout the flashbacks in Side Effects May Vary, the bigger picture is Alice coming to terms, not with death, but with life. After all – when you’re expecting to die, what happens when you live instead?

I think the book’s biggest weakness, perhaps, is Alice herself. She’s not a nice person — and it’s hard to feel sympathetic for her, even when you know she is going through a tumultuous experience. And yet, her experience doesn’t seem to offer her any growth as a character. She seems to show little change from pre-cancer to post-cancer. And that was really the hardest part for me to get through.

That said, her best friend Harvey was a delight – and I think I might have liked the book better if he were the focus, not Alice. Harvey is charming, funny, brave, and shows willingness to grow from his experiences. There were times I wanted to slap Harvey for continually giving in to Alice — but he showed moments of strength, and willingness to stand up for himself, that made me want to cheer him on.

Side Effects May Vary is in stores March 18th.

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Sara | Novel Novice
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