Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Review: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

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I received this book for free from HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Side Effects May Vary by Julie MurphySide Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy
Published by Balzer & Bray on March 18th 2014
Genres: Contemporary, YA
Source: HarperCollins
Buy on Amazon

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?

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.


3 Hot Espressos

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Canadian blogger, wife, mother, coffee lover, and sarcastic at heart! She has had a love for all things bookish since before Amazon and eReaders existed *le gasp*. You can also find her organizing tours and other fun things at Xpresso Book Tours.

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24 Responses to “Review: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy”

  1. Amanda @ Book Badger

    I had considered this book a few times, yet never got around to it, and although I’m on a contemporary kick at the moment, I really think I would have found Alice too frustrating and annoying, especially in her attitudes and how she treated Harvey; I’m fed up of girls in contemporaries being extremely cruel to love interests and expecting things to be perfectly fine afterwards, so I think I may avoid this book. Still, I’m glad you enjoyed parts of it Giselle 😀

  2. Siiri

    I’m really intrigued about this book, and I adore the cover, though people have been claiming to have trouble with Alice so know you are not alone. I agree that in relationships like these–the guy or the girl just letting the other party treat them badly is somewhat their fault, because get out of this relationship, dude! Then again, the other party should think more wisely about what their actions may do to the person. Idk, it’s a dead circle until there’s a revelation of love and feelings or one gets out of this circle. Yes, the possible redemption part of this book is so darn intriguing and I’m glad you enjoyed that aspect. Can’t wait to give this one a go and I’m glad that you enjoyed it as a whole, although you clearly had some problems with it.

  3. Hannah @ The Irish Banana Review

    I’ve had this book on my shelf for months and keep waffling over whether or not to read it. I think you touched on a lot of the reasons I’ve been so hesitant to start it. I’ll keep it around for a rainy day read, but I likely won’t be grabbing it anytime soon. Great review, Giselle!

  4. Faye @ The Social Potato

    My co-blogger, Aimee, read this one not too long ago and pretty much had the same sentiments. She found Alice unreasonably selfish who did not deserve Harvey at all, and the way she handles her relationships would prove to be infuriating above all. But now that you mentioned it, the psychological side of things does seem very intriguing. I wasn’t keen on getting this one, but I may need to reconsider after all! Thanks for the honest-to-goodness review, Giselle!

  5. Jenea @ Books Live Forever

    I have this one, and I still unsure whether or not I will enjoy it. I’m not to big on reading anything with Cancer in it, I tend to avoid them. Alice sounds like she goes through a lot of things. Great review.

  6. ShootingStarsMag

    Sounds like an interesting premise. I can definitely see how thinking you’re definitely going to die might change how you react to people, but I do think I’d get annoyed with Alice too.

  7. Eileen @ Singing and Reading in the Rain

    I definitely agree, and while the concept was pretty interesting, everything else about it really turned me off, especially how hot and cold Alice was towards Harvey. She was just such a total bitch and it’s definitely super hard to sympathize with someone who constantly treated her best friend like complete trash at times. I’m glad that you liked the psychological turn of the story, though! 😀 Fantastic review, Giselle! <33

  8. Ashley @The Quiet Concert

    Great Review. I can agree 100% about Alice. Her relationship and actions towards Harvey had me so angry yet I felt like I could not always fault her. I had to applaud the author in my review for the love story. Even though it drove me nuts there was so much going on, so much I did not predict.

  9. Abbe Hinder

    I’m only 10% into this and so far it’s okay. My only problem is the organization but everyone keeps telling me she’s horrible! And she must be since she treats Harvey like crap! However I do love that last paragraph you wrote! Gah, I would just have no filter on my mouth and say whatever if I knew I was going to die soon. Anyway, lovely review!

  10. The Bookish Manicurist

    It’s always interesting when a book can make you feel, even if you can’t quite decide on whether you love or hate it! I have recently requested this so now I’m keen to see how I like it 🙂

  11. Lauren

    I’m definitely intrigued by Alice getting a second chance and having to deal with the consequences of her last ditch behavior, but I do think I’m going to need epic patience to deal with her. I foresee myself wanting to throw this book across the room too. 🙂 But I definitely want to give it a read anyway. Lovely balanced review!

  12. Aimee

    I’m one of those people who’re scared of dying, but I don’t know if that changes when you’re diagnosed with a terminal disease. Will you just accept it and be prepared? Or will you panic? Those are some of the random things that jump into my mind. In this one, Alice really got on my nerves, and Harvey did as well, sometimes. I hated how she felt like she controlled him and that he let himself be controlled. Fantastic review, Giselle!

  13. Tina

    This has been on my tbr for a while now but I cannot read a book with an annoying main character and I trust you so I’m taking it off. There is literally nothing worse than an annoying female main character… I usually rate my books based on how not annoying and strong the female leads are haha So this would not do well with me!

  14. Zoe @ The Infinite To-Read Shelf

    I’m glad you liked this one overall Giselle! I can definitely see where you’re coming from in terms of Alice – from your review alone she sounds incredibly selfish, which really saddens me. Although the concept sounds fantastic…and definitely emotion-provoking!

    As always, thanks for the fabulous and honest review Giselle! Despite how selfish Alice appears, I think I’m still going to give this one a try!

  15. Melliane

    well… a mixed review. I don’t know, I don’t read a lot of books where the characters are ill… It always makes me cry. I read some but it’s rare.

  16. Cait @ Notebook Sisters

    I really, really, struggled with this. I felt Alice/Harvey’s relationship was totally abusive. I hated how she treated him. HATED IT. I mean, usually it’s the guy not treating the girl right (cough, stalking paranormal boyfriends, cough) so I guess it was different in that this was turned around. But still. GET OUT OF THERE HARVEY. I couldn’t even be happy at the end. Yeah, Alice said she was going to be nice and change, but I didn’t believe her. I couldn’t ever believer. She didn’t deserve Harvey. Okay, okay, I’m finished. 😉

  17. Lily B

    Not sure I would like her myself or how she treats Harvey. I admit, I been skipping over this one and it sounds like for good reasons.

  18. Amy @ The Reading Realm

    I have been considering reading this, but I have my reservations about cancer related stories. I did however like the concept of her remission and the consequences that came with her bucket list. So I’m glad to hear that the psychological side of the story was well written. But it’s disappointing to hear that the heroine is frustrating.

  19. fishgirl182 @ nite lite

    I’ve been seeing this book all over the place and am not sure if I want to read it yet. I am not huge on cancer books though they are pretty though provoking most of the time. Sad to hear that she treats the boy so poorly in this. I kind of hate when this happens in books. I am still interested in it for sure but it may be a library book for me.

  20. Pili

    I’ve had my doubts about this books since I heard about it… being an oncology nurse, I’m not sure I want to read more stories about cancer and have it surround me out of work too, but the whole idea of burning bridges out of anger and then having to confront life after that cause you actually get to live… well, it is a very interesting story! Though I’m not sure how the dying-for-sure-and-now-suddenly-on-remission will work for me, if it is explained well enough for it not bother me too much. I’ll probably give this one a try, fully warned about patience-trying characters!