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Review: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

6 Apr 2014

by Julie Murphy
Publisher: HarperCollins  
Release Date: March 18th, 2014
Format: eARC, 300 pages

 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.

*WARNING*: I swear a fair bit in this review. I don't usually swear in reviews, but the main character pushed me over the edge. Apologies for the profanities! 

I’m currently torn over what to rate Side Effects May Vary. On one hand, I despise the two main characters so much that my overall enjoyment of the book equates to only 2 stars. However, upon reflection, I’m rather relieved the author decided to take on a different approach to the cancer-related stories, which deserves at least 4 stars from me. Having said that, I’ll leave my rating at 3 stars since I suppose my ratings reflect my enjoyment of the book rather than the quality of it, though be warned: there will be massive rants and hate-filled paragraphs in this review, aimed mainly at our vile, despicable and completely infuriating main character, Alice. 

I honestly can’t remember the last character I hated as much as I do Alice. Gosh, just thinking of her completely selfish, obnoxious and patronising personality makes me want to pelt cartons of rotten eggs at her. I absolutely loathed how she never treated anyone the way they deserved. She took advantage of Harvey’s love for her and fucking used him because guess what? She won’t be punished, nor be faced with any form of comeuppance because she’s dying, and no one dares to be anything but kind and considerate towards a dying girl. I hated how she would manipulate Harvey, and convince him to commit atrocious acts of revenge with her without first fucking telling him what she intended to do. He was like a slave her. One call, and he would be by her side, obeying her every demand. And more than once, when she felt Harvey becoming a tiny bit distant, she would lightly touch his arm, or give him a warm smile, or peck him on the cheek and she knew he would immediately soften and obey her every wish. AGAIN. Unfortunately, I found no redeeming qualities in her that could counteract all those negative aspects of her personality. Honestly, I fucking HATED HER. 

Just like every other contemporary YA fiction, there was a character who would constantly mock/ “bully” our protagonist. While I usually disliked those characters, in this case, it was the other way around. I applauded Celeste and Luke for threatening Alice. I was overjoyed when Celeste insulted her. The girl deserved it and needed to be put in her place since Harvey sure wasn’t going to do it anytime soon. As for Luke and Celeste’s combined act of revenge at the end? I didn’t feel and ounce of pity for Alice. All I thought was “You had it coming. IT’S FUCKING KARMA.” Someone who is low enough to mock someone’s size DOES NOT DESERVE MY PITY. 

Also I've lost all respect for Harvey. The ending is a little ambiguous but obviously we know what will happen in the future and I can never see Harvey in the same light again. He's no longer the guy I respected, admired and pitied. I can't see him as the type of noble person to sacrifice everything for love. Because he's just plain stupid. He doesn't fucking 'love' her. He's obsessed with her. He has no fucking pride, dignity nor respect for himself and those around him either. He's essentially brainwashed and living on la-la land. It's unhealthy, it's dysfunctional and I don't give a shit about him and his supposed all-consuming LUUUURRRRVVVEEEEE for Alice anymore. Go do what you want. You want to be led on and cast aside mercilessly without warning? Go ahead. You want to be used and disposed? FINE. But don't go crying to everyone when she decides she has commitment issues again. Oh and Alice isn't 'mean'. She's rotten. Evil. Disgusting. But I suppose if you won't 'love' her no one ever will because most people will not be able to accept that black heart of hers.

Okayokay, so I probably went overboard with my hate-filled rants but that’s exactly what I felt when I read the book. (Also, there are major past/present tense issues since I wrote the paragraphs at different points in time.) Basically, I didn't love this book but the author is undoubtedly spectacularly talented if her character can evoke so much hatred, anger, annoyance, and impatience in me. I can’t say whether I would recommend this to y’all, but I guess if I try to consider everything objectively, the book itself isn’t bad, just the main character ruined it. 

A massive thank you to HarperCollins for providing a copy of Side Effects May Vary for review!


  1. I've heard a lot about this one! Need to check it out soon!

  2. Omg Shirley! I've heard some great things about this book, and never realised Alice was so awful. I hate people that take advantage of others, it's just not right and is a despicable trait. But so many kudos to the author for being brave enough to create a protagonist that she knows people will hate.

    I actually appreciate your review so much, and the swearing just adds to the impact of your words. :P I would definitely love to give this book a go, but no guarantees of whether I'll throw it against a wall from hate. Heh. Wonderful review Shirley xx

  3. You can swear ALL you want Shirley!! I actually couldn't even continue this book! Alice was just SO annoying, and I just HAD to drop it! I don't think you went overboard at all, lol! Thanks for your honest review!
    - Farah @MajiBookshelf

  4. I absolutely agree with everything you've said! I loved the story / concept overall, but as a character Alice bugged me to no end. :( I mean, just because you've had cancer doesn't mean you have the right to be a jerk, right? :| Anyways, thanks so much for sharing and, as always, BRILLIANT review! <3

    ~ Zoe @ The Infinite To-Read Shelf


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