Published: March 2014
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.
I bought this book when it first came out, and then I put off reading it for ages because I had read several mixed reviews for it. It seemed like a lot of people struggled to connect with Alice, finding her intensely unlikable. Characters are important to me as a reader, so once I started seeing these reviews I shied away.
Big mistake, because I actually loved this one! I did find Alice to be extremely hard to like, and there were many times that I found myself beyond frustrated by her behavior. She is manipulative, prideful, vengeful. She's easily hurt and she always, always goes below the belt, even (especially?) when trying to hurt the people she loves most. It's hard to imagine disliking a main character who is dying (sort of) of cancer, but man, I did not like Alice.
And yet. I really wanted to like her, and I spent most of the book secretly hoping that she would be redeemed in some way. In spite of how much she frustrated me, I wanted this prickly girl to get a happy ending. As much as I hated her for hurting Harvey again and again, I still wanted them to end up together. I hated some of the things Alice said and did to the "mean girls" in her life, but I still hurt for her when they struck back. Alice is a subtle character with a lot of depth, and Murphy did a fantastic job crafting her.
But what really made me love this book is Harvey, whom I completely adored. I wanted to smack him sometimes for being so easily used, but there was something so sweet about his utter devotion to Alice. He's so loyal and selfless, and he isn't at all concerned with what anyone else at school thinks of him. It's the hardest thing in the world for him watching the girl he loves slowly waste away, but he never lets Alice see his pain. I also loved their history and the friendship between their two families.
I don't have personal experience with cancer, but I felt like that aspect of the book was handled well. Alice's emotions were raw and volatile and felt genuine. In fact, I think everyone's reactions were depicted in a genuine and honest way. I love that Alice's mom lost her cool and called Alice a little bitch, and that Alice faked sick to get out of school while her parents were already sick with worry over her diagnosis.
All in all, this book was a solid 4 stars for me, and I wouldn't hesitate to pick up something else by Julie Murphy.
I'm not usually a contemporary reader, but I really enjoyed this one. It's made me think I need to start working more contemporary YA into my reading pile!
What contemporary YA are at the top of your list?