Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy (review copy) - 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, who 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 archnemisis) 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 0 and to the one person who matters most? From the blurb.
Having loved Dumplin', I was really eager to read Julie Murphy's other novel, Side Effects May Vary - but also a little wary as Cait of Paper Fury wasn't a fan, and I tend to trust her judgement. However, I actually really enjoyed this!
When Alice finds out she has cancer and it doesn't look likely she'll be able to recover, she decides to get revenge on those who have hurt her. She's calls on an old friend, Harvey, who is crazy about her, to help, and despite his misgivings, he agrees. The girl he is in love with is dying; so he wants to spend as much time with her as possible while he still can, even if it's doing things that go against his conscience. For Alice, her ex-boyfriend, and a girl from school who had constantly given her grief until she went too far, must go down. But once she's ticked most of the items off her list, she discovers she's in remission. The cancer is gone, and she's not going to die. Now she has to live and face what she's done - not just to those she sought revenge on, but also Harvey.
I did really enjoy this book. Don't get me wrong, Alice is an awful girl, and did some seriously inexcusable things, but I still found the story itself intriguing. I enjoyed being exasperated and disgusted by Alice, but I also wanted to see what would happen when she doesn't die. Side Effects May Vary is a dual narrative, told from the perspective of both Alice and Harvey. It also alternates between Then and Now - Then being before Alice is told she's in remission, Now being after. It's not alternating narratives, nor is it alternating chapters for Then and Now, but I still found it easy to follow, as each part is told in chronological order. I really loved getting Harvey's perspective on it all, as well, because although this is Alice's story, Harvey is a major part of her story, and she can't do half the things she wants without him. It was so interesting not only to see the power she had over him because of how he felt for her, but also how he felt about everything that was happening; Alice dying, the things she wanted to do, how his own life was effected.
Although Alice is unbelievably mean, I can kind of understand where she was coming from. She's dying, so why not use the time she has to put people in their place? What consequences has a dying girl got to face? Nothing. And she has absolutely nothing to lose because she's dying, so why the hell not make people pay for what they've done? It's not really something I would do, but I could understand it. And while those she's making pay have done some really terrible things, she's not just spurned on by what they have done, but by something absolutely world shattering she discovers before she is diagnosed. She is angry and she is heartbroken, and then she's diagnosed with cancer. She's full of so much emotion, and she puts that into her revenge plans, because those people she can do something about.
I don't exactly understand why Alice treated Harvey the way she did. She used him, the entire time. She knew how he felt about her, and used that to get what she wanted, manipulating him into doing things he didn't agree with. I can understand that she needed his help, but I don't think she should have gone about it the way she did. Granted, he may not have helped otherwise, but it was just so below the belt.
However, I can kind of understand why she acts the way she does after she's told she's in remission. When Harvey comes back into her life, Alice develops feelings for him, and pretty much tells him so, but she's dying. When she's suddenly not dying, she can't quite accept it. The cancer might come back. The cancer and the belief that she would die has made her realise that things aren't permanent, and with that has come fear. She finds she can't commit or make promises about anything - but Harvey in particular - because she might not be able to keep them. She's half-convinced herself that the cancer will come back, and she's terrified of things ending, so she keeps Harvey at arm's length. It's not easy to explain, and I don't fully understand her, having not been there, but this idea of the lack of permanence has really affected her, and it's like she can't trust things - anything - to last. So don't make a commitment, because it might end. Don't make promises you may not be able to keep. It's almost like she's no longer standing on solid ground, and she's so unsure of everything - and also still dealing with what she discovered early on. It's so heartbreaking to see her like this, even after all she's done. She wants Harvey, she loves Harvey, but she is so full of fear.
I really enjoyed this book, even if I didn't like Alice and how she treated people. I could, in some respects, understand her if not agree with her. Side Effects May Vary was a really interesting and engaging book, and I'm so looking forward to reading whatever Julie Murphy writes next.
Thank you to Harper 360 for the review copy.
Published: 5th May 2016
Publisher: Harper 360
Julie Murphy's Website