Side Effects May Vary - Julie Murphy

Alice is diagnosed with leukaemia. She is devastated. And so is her family. And Harvey. She asks Harvey, who she knows is in love with her, to help her fulfill some bucket-list items before her time runs out, but Harvey begins to question her motives. When Alice finds out that she is in remission, she is suddenly left wondering what to do with the life she had already said goodbye to, and she now has to face the consequences of a number of her previous action.

Julie Murphy's Side Effects May Vary is at once as rich, beautiful, and complex, as it is sad and disturbing. The story is told through the alternating voices of Alice and Harvey, from "then" and "now," allowing readers to piece together their fractured lives and experiences, one bit at a time.

We were so different. Harvey wanted good. He wanted to leave the ones he loved in a good place. I'd just wanted the last word.
Alice is a bitch. She says so herself! ("Karma was a bitch, but so was I.") She is selfish and cruel, and she retaliates against people in horrific ways. But she feels she has to get her revenge on these people because she's dying, so why not! She's closer to an antagonist than a protagonist, but this is an element that drives the story forward in such unique ways compared to other YA with cancer-riddled characters. I want to see her find redemption and realize how awful she's being, and not just realize it, but actually feel bad enough to change it now that she's in remission. My desire to see this change is what keeps me reading!

Harvey is a fantastic second protagonist, always wanting to help and take care of Alice in whatever way he can, but the more he realizes her questionable motives and selfish attitude, the more he understands how he is being manipulated. His realization, though perhaps it comes a bit late, creates a wealth of tension throughout the book. His love for her is his downfall, leaving him unable to fully extract himself from what he knows is a bad situation: "I loved her, and that hurt the worst of all because I was tired of being her debris."

No matter how you feel about Alice or Harvey, the way that they play off of each other throughout the book showcases Murphy's talent for characterization. The writing is strong, the voices and personalities each unique enough to carry their respective chapters. I found myself trying to find moments throughout the day to read just one more section. Perhaps not a book for those who want to love their protagonist(s), but definitely a book with compelling, real teens in a terrible and terrifying situation.

Highly Recommended

*I don't often mention this is reviews, but I love this cover, too. Each of the images corresponds with events and themes within the novel in very important ways, and the four different font colours are reminiscent of the four perspectives we see in the structure of the novel. My hat goes off to the cover designer!

(Note: The review is from an Advanced Reading Copy - Out March 18, 2014)

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