Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy: Cancer patient takes revenge

April 20, 2014 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 4 stars, Books, Reviews

Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy: Cancer patient takes revengeSide Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy
Published by Penguin Australia on March 26, 2014
Source: Publisher
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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Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Twitter @happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

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51 responses to “Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy: Cancer patient takes revenge

  1. I'm one of those people who couldn't stand this one, haha! I get that there was a reason for Alice's behavior, but honestly I don't really get why she has to trample on everyone's feelings, and why Harvey was just as submissive as he was. Anyway, I did adore Julie's writing as well and I'm glad you liked this more than I did!
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  2. I'm really surprised you liked this one. I thought I would be reading another negative review about this book because god knows I have seen SO many of them. Alice has always been giving me off this selfish and eccentric vibe, so it's interesting when you describe her as complex instead. I might try it out someday 🙂
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  3. I have to admit I do love the premise of this book because it sounds pretty funny and i had every intention to read it but after many not so steller reviews started coming in i back-pedalled. I suddenly wasn't so sure whether or not i wanted to read this one. While I do like the idea of reading a book from a mean MC i know i won't stand if she's a downright bitch so i'm still effy about this one but you did manage to enjoy it so i just don't know! Great review jeann!

    Lily @ Lilysbookblog
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  4. I enjoyed this one too and I agree that Alice is rather…. a hit or miss I think for most readers. I really disliked her but on the other hand I understood why she was acing the way she did for the most part. I still couldn't get to the point where I liked her or connected to her and it affected my enjoyment of the book overall but I still appreciated the story. I loved the thought-provoking side of the story that's about getting a life you thought you were losing any minute you know. I also loved the writing itself it was a really compelling style. Great review!!
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  5. Unfortunately for me I DNF-ed this book when I read it. I got about half-way before I thought I can't read this anymore. It reminded me too much of TFIOS and even now I try and stay away from such emotional reads such as this one. It's one of those that have a greater impact on me than it should. :/ But I'm glad overall, that you enjoyed this one, Jeann! 🙂
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  6. I'm so curious about how I would feel about Alice. I know I probably won't connect with her, but at the same time I'm intrigued by the idea of a book being written in the POV of the mean girl. I need to look more into this one, Jeann. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it so much.

    Lovely review.
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  7. You know, I just realized, that perhaps I really need to give this book a chance. I just read Tease by Amanda Maciel, a book that has an extremely unlikeable main character for a heroine, and really really liked it. Not all books have to have a likeable one. Sometimes the intended effect is greater with someone initially selfish and very flawed. I'm definitely giving this book a chance now, after reading Tease. I hope I'll reach the same conclusion and sentiments as yours >:D<
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  8. The author is definitely brave to create such a despicable character. I've read some pretty scathing reviews that hated this book solely based on Alice. But I agree with you, you really need to disconnect yourself from the character in order to understand where she's coming from hey. Wonderful review, probably won't be picking this one up any time soon, but will keep it in mind when I feel like reading about a hateful character 😛
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  9. I agree that these characters were risky, but I'm one of the readers who found this to be really good, too! I thought Alice seemed really realistic – I know cancer patients are often portrayed as being fine with it all and trying to be happy and brave, but there have to be people like Alice, who hate their situation and act out because of it. This was such a unique idea!

    Mands @ The Bookish Manicurist
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  10. Gosh, this sounds pretty full on. As cruel as Alice sounds, I can't even begin to imagine how her character must of felt being diagnosed. A teen would probably feel cheated and pretty pissed with the world. I was lucky enough to win a copy of this from Mands over at The Bookish Manicurist, it sounds really confronting, but looking forward to the challenge. Thanks for the heads up Jeann 🙂
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  11. I've read a lot of mixed reviews for this one. Most people have been saying they find Alice really annoying and irritating, but, after reading your review, it's great to get a fresh look. Maybe this is simply how Julie Murphy wanted Alice's character portrayed? I'm not sure what to think of Harvey – he should at least stand up for himself, right? 😐 Anyway, thank you so much for sharing this Jeann and, as always, brilliant review! <3 I put a copy on hold at the library so hopefully I have the same great experience you did!
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    • It's definitely a love or hate type of book I think, but I thought I should offer a different perspective. Harvey is a bit meh, I saw him as kind of a pushover and that's the reason why he was used. No problems Zoe 🙂

  12. I cannot wait to get my hands on this book! I know that there have been a lot of mixed reviews, but I am really excited about reading it myself. I think that it is an interesting idea, having a main character that you might hate because she is horrible. We always have main characters we are supposed to love, so it is nice to have a change. I am really, really interested in reading it, and your review just helped to solidify that feeling, so thank you! Great review! :]


    Beneath the Jacket Reviews
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    • Definitely a love or hate type of book Tiffany! I went to rate it 2 stars, then looked at the other books that I rated 2 stars and couldn't do it, because this one was better. And yes, you are right, it is someone we are supposed to hate!

  13. Mean characters can sometimes be intriguing to read and sometimes not. But there's an element of surprise in taking a risk on a book like that. Based on your review, I'm in a gambling mood this evening…I think I want to add this to my TBR. This is the kind of book that people love or hate and I'm glad you enjoyed it! Great review! 😉
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    • Thanks Cait, lots of people loathed it and I could totally understand that, but when I rated it 2 and thought about it some more it is actually a decent book. totally agree with the dynamic between her and Harvey.

  14. To be perfectly honest, the main reason I still haven't read this book is that it hits too close to home, since I am an oncohematology nurse, and reading about cancer stories is something I try to avoid.

    Seems very interesting though that it focuses on how the diagnosis doesn't always make people appreciate life more, but in my experience, all patients have a "me against the world" period on their diagnosis where they are mean to everyone around them, but since I only deal with adults and my younger patients were at least in college, they don't think of payback and pranks to their high school peers…

    Great review, Jeann! I might still give this one a try, since it seems like a very different kind of cancer book!
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