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
Reviewing a book that captures a huge part of your heart and mind, that hits all your right buttons, that speaks on so many levels to you, is sometimes impossible to do. How do you really convey everything amazing about this book, without being able to give needed details due to spoilers? That's where I'm at with this one. I feel like I should say, I know Julie. But that in no way influences my intense love of this book. Honestly, I'd almost wish we weren't friends so maybe people would believe me that much more when I say this is one of those books you must read. No matter what. (But I love Julie, thus the almost).
But this book. I connected so hard to Alice. I love this prickly girl who flat out gets revenge on people because she thinks she's dying, and she's angry, and hey she won't be around to handle the fall out. No, she's not a nice person in a lot of ways. But she goes through so much growth. I love the girl she becomes, the change in how she views the world. And, oh, god, the sweetness and connection between her and Harvey. I can see why readers might not like Alice. She does some awful things. But I rooted hard for her. And if I'm being totally honest, I saw part of myself in her. I think whether people want to admit it or not, everyone at least imagines what it'd be like to do what you want, regardless of the consequences. Then there's Alice, who really does it. I admire that. Even if it's in part because she won't have to handle the fallout. But I also just admire how take life by the horns she is, how determined she is. There is an immense strength in this girl, and I can't help but love her.
And Harvey. Oh, sweet, sweet Harvey. I love this boy. To pieces. He is so stunningly different than a lot of guys in YA. At the start, he and Alice haven't talked in way too long, despite the friendship that used to be between them. There is such palpable pain there, and it drew me right in. Then comes Alice's diagnosis, and he's back in her life. He knows she's using him, but he doesn't care. And maybe to some that makes him weak, but to me, it just melted me for this boy, this person who cares about someone so much they take the time they can get, do what they can to help that person in what is likely their final months. Yes, she treats him really crappy at times, and yet, I could never hate her for it, or hate him for taking it. Something about these two, both apart and together, enamored me and broke me. For all the ways he's possibly weak, he's got this huge strength, and a breaking point of his own. He challenges Alice, and he challenges himself. And these two just... break me. There's no other word for it. Harvey is amazing. He's that solid thing you can fall back on, yet he's also that thing that will let you fall when it's best for you int he end.
The pure brilliance of this book to me is not only the stunning concept, but how amazingly its executed. Told in dual POV between Harvey and Alice, but also in a nonlinear fashion, with the past mixed into the present on both sides. It's a style that I sometimes can't wrap my head around trying to do, and Julie does it so, so, so well. I followed the overall storyline so well, adding these pieces of the past to the here and now, combining the stories and constantly feeling my emotions shift and change. The voice is distinct and easy to fall into. Everything about this book sang to me. From the not so easy to swallow choices Alice makes to the raw yet sweet friendship and romance to the roller coaster of emotions throughout.
I'm calling it now. This is my best book of 2014.
Source: ARC received from author in exchange for an honest review
Age Level: 14 and up
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: March 18, 2014