Side Effects May Vary
Genre: Contemporary, YA
Publication date: March 18th 2014
by Balzer & Bray
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?
-A copy was provided by HarperCollins for review-
I loved parts of this book, while others irritated me. Or I should say Alice irritated me. However, the angle of getting a second chance at a life you were done and over with does give you food for thought for which I applaud. Cancer books are not stories I go into lightly; there’s so much cancer in real life already, why would I want to read about yet another victim of this monster? Still, there’s something about this one that called to me and I’m glad I read it. It brings up a different, highly thought-provoking side to a terminal illness. It’s a great story, but the characters made loving this book a stubbornly difficult task.
Alice had her whole life ahead of her. Sure she had a cheating boyfriend and other crappy stuff going on, but she was pretty, smart, and full of potential. Told in “now and then” perspectives, we get to see what happened during her diagnosis, then how she reacts to being told she was now in remission. Which, surprisingly, was not altogether happy news for Alice – considering she spent her last days being a complete bitch, uncaring of any consequences she wouldn’t live to see anyways. Unlike most bucket lists, Alice’s was not about doing things for her, but rather about getting the last word. I was expecting to sympathize with Alice enough to get behind these pranks of hers, but I just felt bad for everyone around her. High school relationships fail. High school kids cheat and spread secrets. It’s hardly worth your last ditch effort in the most literal of sense. I completely understand her anger towards her own declining health, especially when these people who did her wrong are able go on with their lives, but still, it was frustrating to see her concentrate on the wrong things. I mean, what about Harvey, girl?
Romantically, Alice is a whole ‘nother story. She treats Harvey like mud on her shoes and I hated her for it. She refuses to admit she loves him. Worse, she refuses to let him love her. Yet when he tries to move on she gets angry. I seriously wanted to throw book across the room. She plays him like a puppet whenever she pleases, just to ignore him the next day. I guess in a way it’s also his fault for letting her string him along, but if this book did not have two sides of a story, I would not have had the patience for it.
Fortunately, it did have another side: the psychological angle of literally getting your life back, and I absolutely loved that part. Even though I despised Alice for how she acted, I still understood that she was living with an incredibly broken mental and emotional state. This book shows us how a sudden chance at a future can be just as distressing as it can be elating – I know you wouldn’t think it a bad thing ever, but this girl was 100% ready to die. Imagine, one day you’re living with no need or reason to think of long term commitments or consequences for things you say and allow yourself to feel (plus secrets you’re keeping), but then all of a sudden everything matters, because you’re actually going to see tomorrow. How she’d been living, was because she was dying. There’s a catch to her remission, too: A miracle like this remains uncertain. She’s still living in cancer’s shadow. Would you allow yourself to fall in love, to make commitments, knowing it could slap you in the face again? I may not have liked or agreed with Alice’s behavior – at all – but I did get that she was blocking herself off. It does make you think, and putting the reader in the characters’ shoes is important in a story like this.
Love and hate is my relationship with this book. Nevertheless, I would recommend it to contemporary lovers, though with a warning that patience will come in handy when it comes to Alice.