A Review of Side Effects May Vary, by Julie Murphy

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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, who 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 archnemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger). 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 caused 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.

– – – – –

Rating: 3/5 Stars
Quick Reasons: I just couldn’t get into this book; great character motivations/growth; some tough choices and cringe-worthy scenes; cyclic, non-linear story telling

Let’s start with the easiest thing for me to say in this review: I just could not get into this book the way I wanted to. It’s nothing against the characters, I don’t think—they’re pretty complex, multi-dimensional, and overall teenage angsty. I’m not sure; I can’t think WHY this book didn’t speak to me. It just… Didn’t? That’s a terrible conclusion statement; let me try to outline the reasons why I DID like this, okay?

En pointe she was a force, a tornado: safe to look at from a distance, but in close proximity, you risked being just another piece of her debris. Some days I thought I could only be so lucky.

There are some GORGEOUS quotes at the beginning of this book. The prose is seamless at these moments, almost poetic with the weight of the words Julie Murphy is throwing around like silk scarves during a juggling act. The ballet of beautiful descriptors and complex, thought-inducing prose almost brought me to my knees. But as the book goes on and things begin falling apart around our main duo…the prose seems to fall apart, too. It’s like…the deeper we go into our characters’ minds, the more chaos they leave behind, including upon the words themselves.

The characters are pretty spectacular overall. Their motivations are honest and stark, a juxtaposition of true and false against the backdrop of Alice’s health. Alice goes through a HELL of a lot in a very short amount of time, and her character arc is a long loop of ups and downs that are bound to tear a reader’s heart out (they did mine). And through all of it, no matter how mean she was…I felt she might just be justified in her actions. Perhaps I connected with her on a more personal level. Perhaps I just like mean girls for characters (I mean come on, they make some AWESOME fodder for books). Whatever it is, I actually LIKE Alice in this book.

I’d always heard that when you truly love someone, you’re happy for them as long they’re happy. But that’s a lie. That’s higher-road bullshit. If you love someone so much, why the hell would you be happy to see them with anyone else? I didn’t want the easy kind of love. I wanted the crazy love, the kind of love that created and destroyed all at the same time.

But…that’s about where my adoration stops. Something about this… Maybe the story itself?… just didn’t speak to me the way I hoped it would when I started. The ideas are there—I love the idea of tearing down all the walls, getting the last say because you know you don’t have another chance…only to get a second gasp at it all. I love that Alice put herself so fully out there…only to realize that actions have consequences even when you don’t expect you’ll be around to deal with them.

I don’t have a problem with this book, per se. It just didn’t touch me as powerfully as I’d hoped it would. Something about it falls flat in the end; I don’t know what, so please don’t ask. Perhaps it’s just ME, personally, who feels this way. Perhaps I’ve read so many other noteworthy, emotionally overpowering things lately, this one sort of got lost by the wayside. Perhaps I’ll never really know.

I wanted nothing more than to feel something, but I didn’t know how to deal with what came after the feeling.

In the end, I enjoyed this read—but I didn’t LOVE it. The characters are honest, realistic, and filled out in all the right places. The nonlinear, almost cyclic writing style is fascinating and enthralling. The morals are subtle and well-explored. I would still recommend this read to lovers of John Green, Jay Asher, and (maybe?) Sarah Dessen.

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