Book Review: Side Effects May Vary

Side Effects May Vary
Published By: Balzer & Bray
Publication Date: March 18, 2014
Page Count: 336
Buy it at Amazon or Barnes & Noble
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher
Audience: Young Adult - Contemporary

It’s been a long time since I’ve read an actual paper book. Since getting my Kindle a few years ago, I switched exclusively to electronic books and so it took me a while to pick up this review copy after receiving it. I was also a bit worried about how it would compare to The Fault in Our Stars, which was one of my favourite books of 2013, so that delayed me as well. I really wish I had started it sooner! I was absolutely hooked from the end of the first chapter and read the entire book in one afternoon. 

 Alice is sixteen and has been diagnosed with leukaemia. The prognosis isn’t good, and with the help of her sometimes best friend Harvey, she decides to right some wrongs and put a few people in their place. She also has a few things she wants to experience before the inevitable, and she expects Harvey to help with these, as well. But then, the incredible happens. Alice isn’t going to die after all. Her family is overjoyed, but all Alice can think about is the consequences of her actions. Alice has spent a year learning how to die. Now she has to figure out how to live. 

The author presents us with two different viewpoints in the story, those of Alice and Harvey. The story is also presented non-chronologically, which could prove confusing if you were picking up and putting down the book, but reading it all in one sitting, it wasn’t a problem for me. Generally Murphy handles the back and forward well, and the story of what Alice did is revealed to the reader only gradually. 

Despite her diagnosis, or perhaps because of it, Alice is not always a sympathetic character. She can be selfish and downright mean at times, and she treats Harvey terribly, but for me these faults made her all the more real and relatable. If you’re not allowed to be a little bit selfish when you’re dying, when are you ever allowed to be? And to have the certainty of your impending death taken away and replaced by the terrifying prospect of having to live and make choices that you thought were denied you, I can completely understand Alice’s actions in response to this. 

 Harvey is a complete gem and my newest book boyfriend. He clearly adores Alice despite her selfish nature. Without giving too much away, there is a passage where Harvey thinks Alice is gone, and it’s just exquisitely written. His pain is so real and accessible. 

 Murphy has produced an impressive debut novel which explores some pretty major themes. I related to both POV characters equally, and while I didn’t always agree with their actions, I could certainly understand them. I laughed and cried in turns at this book, and was left feeling richer for having read it. To write a largely unsympathetic character and have readers care about them takes some skill. This book will divide readers due to Alice’s often callous treatment of Harvey, but I loved every, single page. 

 Fair warning: The book contains a lot of swearing and mature themes. Not recommended for younger teens.

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? 

 Julie Murphy’s SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY is a fearless and moving tour de force about love, life, and facing your own mortality.


  1. Great review Nic! I still have to read The Fault in Our Stars yet, too! Maybe I'll read this one first...

    1. Thanks :) It's very different to The Fault in Our Stars, and didn't have me weeping buckets in the same way, but it doesn't suffer in comparison the way I was worried it would.

  2. Sounds like an interestingly written book...might add it to the holiday read list. Thanks

  3. Excellent review! I read this book last year when I begged for an ARC and immediately felt like I knew the characters and what they went through relationship-wise. So smart and gut-wrenching. TFIOS is something else completely, I think. Cancer in a young person is really the only comparison.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Sarah. I totally agree that it's a completely different book. I was worried whether "another kids with cancer" book would stand up again TFIOS, but I don't think it needs to. They're both great books, they don't need to be compared (although I think some comparisons are inevitable).


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