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.
This was an interesting read, though I’m sorry to say that I really disliked the main character, Alice–she’s a user and, as she was told many times in the novel, she’s just plain mean. Although Alice tries to blame many of her actions on cancer, it’s more that she’s a jerk who wants to make sure she gets back at everyone she feels hurt her in some way before she found out she was dying. But, lo and behold, she’s now in remission. Unable to deal with what this means—she can’t continue to lead on her best friend Harvey, she has to go back to school and face the people she tormented (granted, they tormented her too, but come on now… that’s your dying wish?), she can’t waste away in her room all “woe is me,” and she can’t avoid the world anymore—her life begins to spiral out of control. While I understand that it’s a shock for her when she hears she’s in remission, that she had resigned herself to death, while everyone else celebrates, she hates every minute of it, and that’s hard for me to swallow. And so were her actions throughout much of the novel. She’s just mean–and karma always comes back with a vengeance. The fact that she doesn’t seem to learn from any of her mistakes also drove me crazy–and I ran out of sympathy for her fairly quickly as the novel unfolded. Now, I’ve never ever been in Alice’s shoes, so I’m on the outside looking in, but I just couldn’t connect with her.
Harvey, on the other hand, I get! He’s a bit gullible and allows Alice to treat him like dirt time and time again, but he’s such a sweetie and… he reminds me of myself as a teen, a long time ago, when I used to pine for people who weren’t worth my time; I’m sure I’m not alone in this sentiment. And I’m so glad he finally takes a stand for himself, even though it hurts him to do it. He’s what made the book for me. Three stars.