Release: 18th March 2014
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: Received for review via Edelweiss
"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 leukaemia, 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?"
There are an abundance of ‘cancer stories’ offered in Contemporary YA and most of them follow a similar formula with the main character being diagnosed with cancer, going on some sort of life changing journey and then dying at the end of the book. It would be fair to say then that Side Effects May Vary breathes new life into the genre, flipping your typical cancer story on its head, as we’re introduced to Alice a girl who has been living a life of no consequences after being given a grim cancer prognosis. Alice has lived her life as if she’s going to be saying goodbye to it soon only to be told that despite the odds she’s in remission. This isn’t a story about cancer and dying, it’s a story about living, second chances and hope.
The book is told in alternating ‘Now’ and ‘Then’ chapters. ‘Then’ goes back to when Alice is first diagnosed. Like most people in her situation Alice makes a list of all the things that she wants to do with the rest of her time. Alice is an angry and scared individual and that reflects in her list as we see Alice settling scores with an ex-boyfriend and frenemy as well as her wanting to do something memorable for her best friend Harvey and have new experiences like learning how to drive. The ‘Now’ chapters follow Alice in the present where she’s struggling to adjust to this unexpected second chance at life. When Alice was diagnosed she put on this hard exterior to put a barrier between her and those she loves to protect both herself and her family for when she wouldn’t be around anymore. Now Alice is struggling to let those people get close to her again because although the cancer is gone her fear of dying and losing everybody isn’t. Alice was a beautifully flawed character and I loved following her uneasy journey in learning how to live and love again.
As well as Alice’s chapters we also get to read from Alice’s best friend Harvey’s point of view. Harvey and his chapters were actually my favourite thing about this book. It’s not often in books that we get to hear directly from the friends or family of the character with cancer and so to experience Harvey’s thoughts and feelings made this book even more moving. I really connected with Harvey and so many of my highlighted quotes on my Kindle were from his chapters. Harvey’s a genuinely nice guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s actually the complete opposite of Alice and so brings out the very best in her and gets her to drop her protective armour that she wears around everybody else but him which I loved to see.
I actually can’t believe that Side Effects May Vary is Julie Murphy’s debut. You’d think that two tenses and two narratives would be too much for a reader to keep up with but Murphy’s writing is consistent throughout and flows beautifully making the way this story is told work in this books favour to give a rounded and developed story. Julie Murphy’s writing was effortless to read and every so often she’ll turn out a phrase that will catch your breath and hit you in the stomach. Hopeful, moving and beautiful Side Effects May Vary was everything I wanted it to be and more.