Published by Penguin Australia on March 26, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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Written from the perspectives of both Harvey and Alice, in Side Effects May Vary, Julie Murphy weaves a compelling story of friendship, relationships and love, with a little bit of death thrown in for good measure; at least for a while.
When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs. So she convinces her best friend Harvey, who's loved her forever, to help with compiling a crazy just-dying-to-do bucket list, that's as much about revenge as it is about redemption. But just when Alice's scores are settled, she goes into remission. Now she must face the consequences of all she's said and done and discover just what happens when we say our 'final' words, only to find that life isn't through with us yet.
Sharp, witty and poignant - this is a book written for all ages.
Side Effects May Vary is about a twisted, mean character who gets diagnosed with leukemia, but instead of living the remainder of her life fruitfully, she decides to take revenge on everyone she ever felt scorned by. Only there’s a problem – Alice survives the cancer and goes into remission, and she must deal with the consequences.
It’s not often that we read a book where the main character is mean, and Alice was a bitch. Alice has been criticised as a manipulator, mean girl and someone who makes enemies. She lashes out at people, takes advantage of Harvey, plays horrible pranks and chucks tantrums at her parents. While we see all the nasty things she does and what she becomes, I actually felt a disconnection between her actions and her point of view, which shows us a self loathing, lost and angry girl soon after her cancer diagnosis.
In a deep corner of myself that scared even me, I thought that maybe if the cancer did come back it might not be so bad. I knew how to die. It was the living that scared me. – Alice
While I’m certainly not symphasising with Alice, her character is definitely complicated, but she isn’t someone who is evil at heart. She felt like she’d be dealt a horrible deck of cards, and she deals with it by taking it out on the world. In her spiral of demise, she gets really nasty especially to Harvey, and I can see why people hated that about her. I think she was interesting though, with a lot of complicated depth, certainly more fascinating than the number of Mary Sues flitting about in fiction.
Harvey on the other hand, exasperated the situation by being a doormat. He does whatever Alice tells him to do, and he knows that he can’t say no to anything, as mean and horrible as it was. That’s pretty much his own fault and Alice uses it to her advantage. Without any parents as role models, it seemed that Alice was all Harvey had ever known, which is why a seemingly normal healthy person could go for someone who wasn’t able to give him what he wanted.
For Harvey, all of this was probably cruel. But for me, it was the last meal – all the sweet things that were never meant for everyday consumption. – Alice
Julie Murphy’s writing was beautiful and lyrical and I had many bookmarked pages with her quotes. She took a risk with Side Effects May Vary, and I appreciated that. I felt it was an interesting and well-written novel, but it turns out that most of us don’t like reading about mean horrible characters and you know what? That’s okay too.
Thank you to Penguin Australia for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.
Rating: 4 out of 5
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