New York Times bestseller, Julie Murphy’s Side Effects May Vary took the young adult literature fandom by storm in 2014 and although I am a little late to the party, I wanted to see what all of the fuss was about.
At first Side Effects May Vary seemed like yet another contemporary young adult cancer book in a genre clogged with the same old story: dying character meets soulmate then dies tragically before they can grow old together. However, this novel has an interesting twist which makes it a worthwhile read.
Alice is about to die. She’s been suffering from leukaemia for almost a year and she’s in her final weeks of life. In the build up to this time Alice has been working her way through a bucket list with the help of her childhood best friend Harvey (who is completely in love with her, of course). They acknowledge their love for one another on what they think might be Alice’s final night. But then Alice’s doctors say there’s been a miracle – she’s going to live. Awkward!
What truly made this story was Alice’s authentic personality. She wasn’t the perfect heroine and I don’t mean that she was physically unattractive or weak, she was mean. The nasty, manipulative part of her personality came out in her list when she wanted revenge on her nemesis and ex-boyfriend. She also walks over Harvey, her personal doormat, all the time, using him selfishly and appeasing him with a kiss on the cheek or a glimpse at her changing when he begins to distance from her.
The novel flicks between Alice and Harvey’s perspectives, both ‘then’ (when Alice was dying) and ‘now’ (her remission). This kept the story interesting while maintaining it to two characters so it was easy to follow and provided the space to really get to know Alice and Harvey.
Kirkus Review said, “readers will turn the last page wanting to know where the next chapter leads,” a statement which I completely agree with. In fact, when I read the final paragraph, I flicked back a few pages to read the conclusion again because I couldn’t quite believe that it was over. The story doesn’t ‘peak’ as most novels do – Alice’s remission is announced pretty early on and for the rest of the story the anxiety level remains reasonably constant. As a result, the ending seems to come out of nowhere and hit you in the face with emotion – not a bad thing, but definitely one that leaves you wanting more.
In Alice’s words, “the year I died had become the year I lived,” and this really is a story about life – especially how to get past your own wrongdoings. It’s brutally honest and cringe-worthy at times, but most importantly an innovative young adult novel with a twist like no other. I’m excited to read Murphy’s second book Dumplin’ which came out only a few months ago.
Jessikah Hope Stenson