When sixteen year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukaemia, her prognosis is grim. To maximise 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." (synopsis from (x)
Side Effects May Vary has caused quite the stir in the YA blogger community, and understandably so. Unsympathetic main characters can tend to do that. Because of this, I came into the book with mixed expectations. I've left it with exactly the same impression.
Side Effects May Vary starts with Alice, a sixteen year old girl, finding out that her terminal cancer has in fact, disappeared. This should make her thrilled, and ecstatic, but instead makes her worried. Why? Because she made a bucket list and on it, there were just as many paybacks, pieces of revenge, and humiliations as there were good things.
Ok, so the good stuff. Loved, loved, loved the writing. Really well done, and the author did a great job at creating distinct enough voices (and characters) that I knew who was talking without any chapter header help (the novel switches back and forth between Alice and Harvey's perspective).
I also found the pacing really well done. I mean, I'm a fast reader by normal standards, but I read this really quickly by my standards. Two days. I ignored all my schoolwork to read this. I just couldn't stop. I was a little obsessed. I think the author had the right idea in switching between past and present. It just made the story flow a lot better and kept me well interested. The switching between narrators also was really well done.
The plot itself was really ingenious? Like, I know how stupid that sounds, but it's just a really interesting plot. I like that it made me think, 'If I were in that situation, would I act the exact same way?' It's just something you would've thought had been done before, but in fact, hasn't.
Now, for a bit of controversy. I actually didn't really have an issue with Alice. She's wholly unsympathetic, yes. Very little character development, yes. But I didn't hate her. In fact, on some levels, I even understood her? Particularly on the 'what do I do now that I don't have cancer and I do have a future?' I think people who are about to graduate (whether that be high school or uni or college) will have this similar feeling of helplessness and confusion. I liked that. Ok, controversial opinion over.
I do have a few fiddly issues with Side Effects May Vary though. The biggest one being the most obvious one: the relationship between Harvey and Alice. I just, I'm not sold on it. I feel really conflicted about it. I don't think I should root for it, just because Alice treats Harvey so terribly. I can't tell whether the author is pushing on us to root for it or not, but I can't get behind it. I just can't. I like Alice, but I can't say this relationship is healthy on any level.
The other con really is just very fiddly. I wanted to see more of the adventures Alice and Harvey got up to with her bucket list. I just wish we'd seen more of them. I would've loved it.
Overall, a really strong debut. Controversial? Definitely. Illuminating? A little. Conflicting? Most certainly. I really needed time to reflect on what rating I wanted to give this book. If we're rating based off the relationship alone, I'm more inclined to give this book a 2.5. Luckily though, it isn't the be all and end all. 4 stars.
Rating: **** (4 stars)
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Date of Publication: March 26th 2014
Want to buy this book? You can get it here:
Thank you to Penguin Australia and NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC