Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Review: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Title: Side Effects May Vary
Author: Julie Murphy
Release date: March 18th 2014
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Format: eARC
Pages: 245
Source: Edelweiss

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?

I didn't have high expectations for this after noticing quite a few unfavourable reviews, so I wasn't too disappointed when I ended up not liking it. Side Effects May Vary is definitely not your typical cancer book. It's nothing like The Fault in Our Stars, or even Maybe One Day. No, this one is all about cattiness and revenge. You'll see what I'm talking about soon enough.

When Alice is diagnosed with cancer, she doesn't react like normal people. Sure, she has a bucket list. But it mostly consists of getting back at her ex-boyfriend and some bitchy girls she doesn't like. Alice enlists Harvey to help her - the guy she practically grew up with, and who's been in love with her for ages. Alice uses him to get through her list. But when they become closer, all she wants to do is push him away. Things turn upside down when Alice finds out she's in remission and has to deal with everything she did during what she thought would be the last year of her life.

This book is told in dual POV, from Alice and Harvey's perspectives. But the timeline is also split into 'then' and 'now' - then being when Alice was diagnosed with cancer, and now being after she's in remission. The dual POV was good, and it helped to get to know the characters, but the timeline split was just annoying. It's confusing to keep both straight in my head, and I didn't get the point. A chronological narration would have made way more sense.

As for the characters, I have to say I didn't like either of them at all. Alice is a total bitch, and I hated how she treats Harvey like crap even though she'll never deserve someone like him. He's the only one who's sweet to her, and she just insults him and flaunts other guys in front of him, like she doesn't know he's in love with her. All Alice does is use him for her own ridiculous purposes. I also hated Alice a little more for her reaction to finding out she's in remission. Is she thankful? No, of course not. She's apprehensive, shocked, and she actually seems unhappy about it. She's so ungrateful and I feel like bashing her head in for that. Anyone with cancer would kill for the miracle she got.

I could go on and on about how Alice pissed me off, but that would take up the entirety of my review. Moving on to Harvey. I wanted to like him, I really did. I was hoping there was at least one redeeming character in this book. But Harvey is a complete pushover, and I was pissed that he let Alice treat him like crap. I honestly can't tell why he fell for someone as bitchy as her, and to her credit, Alice doesn't know either. Harvey's crazy about her, and he'll do anything for her. Take the list for example, helping Alice with her insane demands. Harvey does stand up for himself at a point, but it's redundant when he just runs back to her. He has what I would call a Gatsby complex, and I think this quote from him just about sums that up - 

“It all made me wonder if maybe the Great Alice and Harvey in my head was a distorted version of reality.”

Harvey puts Alice on this pedestal that he believes he can never reach, and he doesn't realize that until a lot later in the novel. He overlooks her meanness and shallow attitude most of the time, and later is accepting of them after he's been snubbed one too many times.

Pretty much the entire book is about Alice getting revenge and being a bitch to everyone, especially Harvey. I thought at least the ending would be a nice change, but it really wasn't. Sure, it seems like Alice and Harvey are kind of together, but I highly doubt it would last. He goes back to her after she does one nice thing for him, and that really isn't enough to hold up a relationship. But whatever, I couldn't bring myself to care about these characters so I'm indifferent to the ending.

Basically, if you like YA books about cancer and you're expecting another TFiOS, you will be very disappointed. I can't enjoy books where I dislike the protagonist, so I couldn't bring myself to like this one. In fact, Side Effects May Vary has convinced me to stay away from books like this. I did like the writing, but that was the only thing that made this read bearable. So bottom line - I had low expectations for this one, and I wasn't surprised by the outcome after reading it. It definitely didn't wow me, and I'm sorry to say that.

*Thank you to HarperCollins for providing me with an eARC for review*

Rating: 2/5


  1. Well, every review that I've read of this book seems to share the same opinion. I'm just not into petty, vindictive characters, so…pass.

    Good on you for sticking through it. :)

  2. I'm starting to see quite a few negative reviews for this one but I still want to read it anyway because I have an ARC. Hopefully, since I already know that she's gonna be a bitch, I'll like more? Crossing my fingers!


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