Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Side Effects May VarySide Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy
Published by: Balzer & Bray on March 18, 2014
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 336
Source: Edelweiss
Buy on AmazonBook Details
Rating: ★★½

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 was disappointed in Side Effects May Vary 🙁 There were two main problems for me: I didn’t like the “then” and “now” style of narration (I don’t think it worked well here), and the main character quickly became very unlikable, and that made it hard to sympathize with her.

I’m perfectly fine with then and now narration in many books, but I don’t think it fit in this one. The “then” is right after Alice got diagnosed with cancer, and “now” is over a year later when she’s in remission. So the “then” is when she’s first starting her bucket list thing, and the “now” is when she starts dealing with the consequences of it. I think it felt jumbled and confusing because we’d read about the “now” chapters when she’s dealing with the consequences, but at that point we still have no idea what she actually did to piss people off. So we have to slowly figure it out. I just think it made the story too confusing and even frustrated at times because I had to try to figure it out with little knowledge. Sometimes this style of writing really works, but I don’t think it was a good fit here.

And the bigger problem was Alice herself. Alice and I started out okay. I don’t think I loved her, but I was open minded and giving her a chance. But she slowly got worse and worse. She kind of turned into a big bitch, and that made it SO hard for me to like her, sympathize with her, or even keep reading (towards the end). It felt like the whole story was about: “see how big of a bitch Alice can be for 95%, then watch her try to redeem herself in the last 5 pages”. It just went on waaay too long with Alice being a bitch. Here are a few examples:

When she thought she was dying, she got really close to Harvey and basically told him she loved him (she didn’t say it exactly, but it was implied). They were clearly almost in a relationship (they just hadn’t defined it). Then as soon as she goes into remission, she completely ignores Harvey and treats him like shit. I felt so bad for the guy.

“Why are you acting like nothing happened between us when something did?”

Harvey was asked to drive Alice home from school since her parents were unable to. Harvey tells Alice this then says he’ll bring the car around. He’s in the car, waiting for her to get in (he’s like right next to her.. she can see him), but she doesn’t. He keeps waiting and waiting. Then:

With her back turned to me, I could see Alice had no intention of getting into the vehicle anytime soon. She was talking to Eric Guy. She couldn’t talk to me, but she could talk to this asshole. So I honked. For thirty seconds straight. And then one more honk for good measure. Alice turned, and narrowed her eyes at me.

She knows he’s ready to go and she just IGNORES him for like 15 minutes. She doesn’t say, “Hang on, I just want to finish up talking to Eric.” She doesn’t say ANYTHING. She just flat out ignores him. He’s doing her a favour by driving her home and she’s just being a bitch about it.

Then she did just plain stupid stuff like this:

I walked into our room on Sunday night and found Harvey in the process of putting his sheets on the top bunk. I threw my duffle bag on the floor and said, “I call top,” and walked out of the room.

Maybe that’s a stupid, small thing, but it’s those stupid small things that built up and pissed me off. Harvey already had the top bunk. He was putting his sheets on it, and she just “claimed it” to piss him off. I wish Harvey had told her to screw herself instead of giving in and letting her have it. Who the hell does that?

Alice used Harvey. She used him to help her complete her stupid bucket list, then once it was over, she abandoned him.

Being an imaginary friend was a one-way street. If that’s what I was to Alice, then maybe she only ever saw me when she needed me. I wondered what would happen when I needed her.

Alice only wanted Harvey when she couldn’t have him, and I hated that. She wanted him when she was dying (because she couldn’t stay with him), she wanted him when he was with someone else (because it meant he wasn’t hers), but then when she actually could have him, she didn’t want him.

“You are hollow on the inside, Alice, did you know that?” She asked. “Rotten too. And no one cares. No one cares because you make it so difficult to.”

This quote couldn’t be more accurate. Clearly Alice’s behaviour was intentional on the author’s part, but I couldn’t stand it.. especially when it just got worse and worse for like 90 or 95% of the book. I think I could have dealt with it if she was a bitch for 60% and spent the last 40% making up for it, but that wasn’t the case. She was a mean person and then spent like 5 pages apologizing and that was it. It wasn’t enough for me.

I think a lot of people will love this book because there is an interesting story there. Parts of it (especially about the cancer and how people acted) were really powerful. I’m just upset that the author decide to make Alice SO bitchy for so much of the time. She wasn’t a nice person. I couldn’t see what Harvey saw in her, because she completely used him. I hung in there for a good part of the book, but when I saw that it was still an issue like 75% through, I started getting really fed up and annoyed. I started skimming a bit at that point.

If you think you can deal with a bitchy character, or the above quotes don’t bother you, then I do recommend you give Side Effects May Vary a try. Because as I said, it is interesting and I think a lot of people will love it a lot more than I did. But if you can’t stand characters with a bit of a bitchy attitude, then you may want to avoid it!

The Verdict


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  1. This was a DNF For me. I had the same issues as you and I think I got to 30% and knew it wasn’t happening.

  2. *gulps* I have an ARC of this and I’m still getting around to reading it, mostly because the reviews haven’t been really good so far! Such a shame. I think I’m going to struggle with Alice. I really don’t get on well with characters who are straight out MEAN. And it sucks when they mistreat people. :/

  3. YES I totally agree! I gave this one an even lower rating because not only did the narration and Alice completely clash with with me, there was so many other stereotypes and annoying things that just grated on my nerves. I especially hated how she continuously strung Harvey along like you can’t set a double standard and be a total hypocrite *cries* But fantastic review, Ashley! <33

    Eileen @ Singing and Reading in the Rain recently posted: Going Vintage by Lindsay Leavitt
  4. Lately, I’ve been feeling like every cancer book (except for TFiOS) is pretty much the same with a few character/plot alterations. Side Effects May Vary sounds almost exactly like The F-It List, except the MC has cancer instead of the best friend. Your reaction to this book seems similar to my reaction to The F-It List: disappointed. Maybe I should just skip book. After reading TFiOS, most other cancer-related plots just seem so melodramatic.

    D. @ The Nerdy Journalist recently posted: If I Stay by Gayle Forman
  5. Yikes! The concept of this book sounds so heart-wrenching and emotion provoking, but Alice definitely sounds like a character that will get on my nerves quite a bit. And the narration sounds really confusing! Thanks for sharing Ashley, and – as always – brilliant review! 😀

    Zoe N. recently posted: Uninvited
  6. Excellent review. I think I’ll be skipping this one. Alice sounds way to selfish for me. I love a good redemption story but that just sounds like way too much and a little to late. I also HATE a hypocrite, I seriously even hate myself when I’m being a hypocrite so I doubt I would like it.

    That’s such a shame, sounds like it could have been a great book. Maybe cover how bad she was for the first 25% then once she’s diagnosed she realizes how hollow her life has been and tries to change. Also even though I haven’t read it I think the then and now would have really bugged me. I prefer a linear story although like you said when done right it can work really well.

    Great review!

    Jamie Pinson recently posted: Just One Night – Elle Casey

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