Friday, March 7, 2014

Review: SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY by Julie Murphy

Title: Side Effects May Vary
Author: Julie Murphy
Publication date: March 18, 2014
Publisher: HarperTeen
Source: an e-galley provided by the publisher via Edelweiss for an honest review.

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? 

First line: If ever my parents gave me a religion, it was the gospel of honesty.

The hard part about reading an unlikable main character is that you don't want to like the book. At the same time, you do because that means she's getting more likable. Side Effects May Vary was on my most anticipated books of 2014 and while it didn't exactly meet my expectations, I still liked it. Enjoyed it is a different thing altogether. 

You need to know a few things before you pick up the book—which I do hope you do, at the very least so that we can discuss. The first thing you need to know is that the chapters alternate between the POVs of Alice and Harvey and it alternates between then and now, during the cancer to post-cancer. I thought that would be unnecessary and confusing when I first started reading, but it was actually a good move in the long-run. It meant that we didn't have to waste space by talking in passive voice and about things she did. Instead, we were able to go through it with both of the characters and then see both of their views, which helps when it comes to connecting and sympathizing. 

Another thing you need to know is Alice and how unlikable she is. When I say "unlikable," I really do mean unlikable. 

Ultimately, she's self-centered. When she finds out she has cancer, she decides to get revenge on her ex-boyfriend and frenemies-turned-nemeses. To do so, she involves her old best friend Harvey. After the transition to high school and she started dating a jerk, she friend-dumped Harvey, who has always been in love with her. See, right there, it's an annoyance in an annoyance. For some reason, Harvey loves Alice. Why? I don't really know. She may have her good qualities under the scheming, but I was baffled throughout the story why Harvey has had such a long-lasting infatuation with her. An infatuation despite the fact that she has never liked him in that way. Get a grip, Harv. Back to the main problem and the fact that Alice used Harvey since the beginning of the book. I wouldn't doubt that she used him during their childhood too. If you read my review of Better Off Friends, you know that I hate when friends use friends. Alice was the poster child for being a Friend User. 

But here was the reality of the situation: the minute my life when from semipermanent to most liekly temporary, I decided to latch on to everything in my world that had always been permanent, and for me, Harvey was so permanent he was concrete.

I'd also like to mention that I think she displayed a couple somewhat "mental" issues during the book as well. Violent acts, self-centered, cold, strangely reminded me of a not-as-bad version of Prisoner of Night and Fog and the antagonists in there and how the author described their "condition." Hey, that might be normal for a post-cancer patient with a vendetta for the world, but I thought she needed therapy. 

Still, I strangely didn't hate her. I never reached the point where I was sick and tired of her narrative. I wanted Harvey away from her, sure, and I really wanted to slap some sense into her, but I never reached the point where I hated the book because of her. That's a hard situation to describe in a review. Because some books can have unlikable characters and that ruins the whole book. I've DNF'd books because of that. But then you have Julie Murphy writing an unlikable character and I actually can't stop reading the book. I keep going and care about the outcome and what happens to the characters. To me, that's an incredible feat and one that deserves respect and praise. 

Something else that surprised me was that for the first time, I didn't want the two narrators of the story to get together at the end. I won't say if they do or don't, but after I realized how frustrating, and even how abusive Alice acted, I didn't want the two main characters to be together. I didn't think it was healthy. Did that take away from the story? Surprisingly, no. The whole book was imperfectly perfect or badly good. It's a whole book of contradictions, especially when it comes to feelings. You don't like Alice, but in a small way, you root for her. You think Harvey acts like an idiot, but you can't help wanting to hug and shield him. You hate what happens in the story, but you can't stop reading. 

I don't want it to sound like a twisted car crash, where you can't look away hello The Selection, because it's not. I enjoyed Murphy's writing and the plot hooked me. The characters were immensely flawed, but still redeemable. A book full of contradictions for me and for that, I liked it. 

Verdict: Frustrating. Annoying. Captivating. Different. I don't know what else to say.


  1. Yup, I definitely have similar thoughts about this book. Alice was just awful! Harvey definitely deserves better but just like you I can't stop reading this matter how much I hated Alice...

    1. I wanted Harvey away from her, far far away! It's weird what this book did to my readerly emotions.

  2. Similar thoughts about this book! Their relationship/friendship was getting unhealthy, but I did like the ending though! I thought it was very well-executed. :D Great review! :D

    -Kimi at Geeky Chiquitas

    1. I was close to calling some abusive hotline for them, ha!

  3. This sounds like an interesting reading experience. The protagonist seems terrible, but if you managed to cheer for her a bit anyway, I'm sure I will be able to do so as well. As I said in my comment on your most recent discussion post, I hate characters who whine, but I can deal with selfishness, so I still have high hopes for this book. :)

  4. Oh man, you too, huh? Kim didn't enjoy this book at all, and mentioned how much she disliked the main character as well. I think it's pretty telling that you read the book with these alternating POVs and realized that you didn't want these two to end up together at all.

    It's sad to see these reactions to the book, because the author is so funny and personable online--I'm hoping her next book will have some of that humor I've come to enjoy! Sorry you were disappointed in this one, though, I have the feeling I'd have similar feelings about it.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

  5. I skipped over this one because I'm gotten a bit tired of the "bucket list" plot, though this one definitely sounds a bit different in how it was handled. I do like when an author is able to make you not hate an unlikable character, that definitely intrigues me. But I feel bad for this guy already. I'm not sure I could handle this book for that. I'd probably spend the whole time feeling sad for him. Thoughtful review, Sunny!

  6. I loved how this one pulled at me and also pushed me away. I know this book isn't for everyone, but I'm glad you found it at least somewhat enjoyable. I was actually kind of glad that the bucket list aspect wasn't what I was expecting because that plot is kind of everywhere these days.