Friday, October 24, 2014

Review: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Title: Side Effects May Vary
Author: Julie Murphy
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release date: March 18th 2014
Pages: 330
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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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?
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Side Effects May Vary is told in alternating chapters from Alice's and Harey's points-of-view, and they also alternate between then - when Alice is diagnosed and seems to be losing the battle against cancer - and now, after she's gone into remission. And the reason I had such conflicting feelings about this book is that I loved the now part of the story, but found the then pretty underwhelming, which is why I still can't make up my mind about this book.

I absolutely loved the now part of the story. Everyone has read the girl-dying-from-cancer story before, but the idea of going into remission and figuring out how to live again is unique and refreshing. Especially because Alice's bucket list when she was first diagnosed is not just your typical experiences-I-need-to-have-before-I-die type of thing but also consisted of getting back at people who had wronged her and generally not caring about the consequences of any of her actions. So even though you would assume a cancer patient would be ecstatic at hearing they're in remission, it makes sense that Alice would have a hard time dealing with the repercussions of what she did when she assumed she wouldn't be around to face the consequences.

The relationship between Alice and Harvey is the main focus of Side Effects May Vary. I know a lot of people took issue with this relationship because Alice is not exactly a good person when it comes to Harvey. But I strongly believe that a character does not have to be likable for a book to be good, and Alice is undoubtedly a well-written character. Yes, Alice's disregard for Harvey's feelings, and her inability to make up her mind about what exactly she wants from him are infuriating. But Alice's issues are realistic and really well-done; even though what she's doing is horrible, I understood her, at least to some extent. Julie Murphy's writing is beautiful and evocative when it comes to Alice's and Harvey's feelings for one another. Both Alice's and Harvey's stories are fascinating, and even if it's frustrating to read about, their relationship is well-written, complex and nuanced, and I loved it. I found the ending a bit disappointing because I wanted more of a resolution, but I still thought it fit the story well.

I get that, in a way, the then part of the story is necessary for the now part to work. But it still didn't work for me. I'm sorry, but I just couldn't get myself to care about this part of the story. It moves really slowly, and since such large parts of the beginning of the novel are about then, I found Side Effects May Vary very hard to get into. The remission part is what makes this book unique, so I wish the focus had been more or less exclusively on that, rather than dwelling on the time when Alice thought she was dying. The teenager-dying-from-cancer story has been done a million times before, and the descriptions of what Alice is going through aren't well-done enough to really stand out. Especially knowing the outcome, the story didn't evoke the feels that this kind of story usually would. The then scenes are very average; with an idea that had so much potential, I found those parts to be underwhelming, and they took away from my enjoyment of the novel.

So... yeah. Very different feelings about the two parts of this story. It took me a looong time to really get into the story because the beginning is dominated by the underwhelming flashbacks. But I did love the complex relationship portrayed in the now part of the story. So I do recommend Side Effects May Vary, if you think you can handle the slow parts.


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