10 Mar 2014

Review: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy
March 18th, 2014 · Penguin
Source: Publisher
Format: ARC
Page Count: 366
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? 

Julie Murphy’s SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY is a fearless and moving tour de force about love, life, and facing your own mortality.
Side Effects May Vary was a book that sounded good, but what really made me want to read it were the early rave reviews I kept reading. Unfortunately, I can’t say I ended up loving this.

You might have heard Alice is an unlikeable MC and its true - she has many flaws and was incredibly selfish at times. The thing is, not every character is meant to be liked and I get that; some are written to frustrate you and get under your skin - Alice falls under that category. It’s a balancing act with these types of characters; some work, others don’t, and for me, Alice didn't. As for Harvey, he is a much more likeable character and I liked that he brought some sweetness to the story, balancing out Alice. But in the end, he started to annoy me, too. He was so hung up on Alice and it was hard to see why, plus he made some poor choices that ended up hurting people's feelings. Having said that, this made them feel very realistic and human, which is a plus. When it comes down to it, I'd much rather the unlikeable character with faults, who feels real and true and frustrates, than the most candy sweet character, who are flat, boring and two dimensional. With four point of views on the go - Alice and Harvey, both with Now and Then POVs - it took me quite some time to get into, but I did eventually warm up to it.

There were parts that I liked and then were some parts I really loved, that completely drew me in (looking back, these tended to be mostly set ‘then’). I really wish they had been more of the latter moments for me because the parts I loved, I loved.

I must commend Julie on doing her research about cancer and all the things that follow – for me, this was my favourite aspect. It wasn't just facts and bits of information thrown together in a messy attempt to show you she’d done her bit. You could really, truly see how much work and effort had gone into making sure the information was accurate as can be. I don't know the extent she went to – from the acknowledgments, a lot - but you could tell she’d done her homework and I really appreciated that. I think this made Alice come off the page even more because what she was going through - past and present - was not only tangibly real, but written well.

Though Side Effects May Vary wasn't my cup of tea, Julie Murphy has a rich, creative style of writing and I'll keep my eye out for her next title. Hopefully we'll get along better than we did the first time round.



  1. I've been curious about this one for a long time, particularly the relationship between Alice and Harvey. Thanks for sharing your thoughts... I'm looking forward to giving it a read!

  2. I have this book on my Kindle and like you I saw some really good reviews for this book. For me though I think the premise of the book slightly throws me off, because these sort of books don't settle with me very well. But I think I may be willing to give this a try in the future for sure.

    I've just recently come across your blog and I love it. I'll look forward to reading your reviews and talking about books. Lovely meeting you. :)

  3. I agree, Alice was definitely an unlikable character, but I sometimes understood her. The research was noticeable and I liked that too!

  4. I SO want to read this. You make an interesting point about unlikeable narrators - I don't think it's a book's job for you to fall in love with the protagonist. But the author's way of doing that definitely makes or breaks it. Great review!

  5. I'm glad you enjoyed this overall! There has been a lot of hype for this book, but I've also seen some negative feelings. I'm going to be reading it v.soon!

  6. Love your review! It's very nuanced and I'm excited to give it a shot =) Usually I'd stay away from books with unlikeable MC because characters make up such a HUGE part in my enjoyment of a book, but I can feel that Alice is going to be different.

    Alicia @ Summer Next Top Story

  7. Awesome review! I hated Alice too when I read this one. I did not really love it, but I liked it! It was very hard for me to share what I felt, so up to now I haven't written a review yet. -.-

    Divergent Gryffindor

  8. I've been wanting to pick this one up for a while now, but I keep getting pulled back and forth between reviews. I might just have to pick Side Effects May Vary in the library when it comes out...and if I like it, buy my own. Alice seems like an interesting character, you don't often see selfish characters in the YA genre, but instead characters who are willing to risk it all for someone they just met.