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Estelle: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Side Effects May Vary by Julie MurphySide Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: 3/18/2014
Publisher: HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray
Pages: 336
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: cancer, friendship, romance, parental relationships, revenge
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)

Summary: Alice and Harvey are two estranged friends who team up to complete her must-do list when Alice is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Her great strides to make things right (even by doing things so wrong) comes back to haunt her when she surprisingly goes through remission and now she must deal with all she’s said and done.

In a perfect world, we would all be wonderful at expressing ourselves (especially during sticky situations) and handle every tough break with positivity, decorum, and acceptance. Instead, humans, despite their best intentions, slip up all the time. They close themselves off from people (even the ones who care the most) and instead of making the best out of a bad situation, kind of make things worse.

I’m happy to say Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy features imperfect characters, especially the main character Alice. She’s diagnosed with cancer and her mom is lying to the family. She has every right to be angry, definitely. So she recruited her old friend, Harvey, to help her out with a to-do list of things she wants to accomplish before she dies. Most of them are over the top, crazy and insane, but the devoted Harvey is on board, even though their history — childhood friends! friends with feelings! a rift! — is still a thing.

It’s true that I’m more of a Harvey than an Alice. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I am loyal to people I care about. Sometimes too loyal. This is probably why I related more to Harvey than I did to Alice. Like her character, she was even written with a certain bit of detachment so it was hard to connect to her, especially when as a reader we are privy to her feelings but continue to watch her not use her words or tell anyone how she really feels.

Cancer is a common ingredient in books, but I loved Murphy’s unique take. In chapters that alternate between Harvey and Alice, we also switch between time periods: THEN (when Alice discovers she has cancer) and NOW (when Alice unexpectedly goes into remission). So basically Alice has to deal with the repercussions of her actions and for someone as guarded and fearful of confrontation like she is… that’s freaking scary.

I absolutely could not wait to find out how all of this would end. Would Alice let Harvey get away? Would her revenge tactics haunt her forever? Could she move forward with her second chance at life? Something so many people in her position would embrace so thankfully? (Alice is pretty much the only character I’ve ever read about who is pissed off about beating cancer.) So many characters are forced to make adjustments after Alice’s diagnosis changes and it’s really interesting to see how those dynamics play off each other.

Murphy’s writing is sharp, I love her dialogue, and even the other situations she folds in (not being ready to have sex yet, “friendly” competition, mother/daughter relationships and even son/mother relationships, bullying) fit in so naturally. I was completely hooked and read most of Side Effects May Vary in a day. (I was also focused on finding some of Julie’s homages to God Shaped Hole by Tiffanie DeBartolo, a book we both love.) While some of the time transitions were a bit confusing and I would have loved for the ending to be stretched out a bit more, the character growth, the great writing, and creative storytelling made this a winner for me.

I can’t wait to read it again.

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March 30, 2014 - 10:20 am

brittany @ The Book Addict's Guide - Oh wow, very much of a winner! Being that person who puts off “cancer books” (it’s just not a topic that appeals to me a lot), I don’t even have this one on my TBR. I think you may have just convinced me!

March 19, 2014 - 10:56 am

Ginger @ GReads! - Oh this book. And this writer! How I adore both. I love that Alice is a character that is so easily hated, yet by the end of the story there’s a sense of understanding as to why she is this way. That right there is a testament to Julie’s writing. So glad you enjoyed this book.

March 19, 2014 - 12:05 am

Liz - I find it interesting that you identify as Harvey. I am probably some disgusting combination of Alice and Harvey–I do wear my heart on my sleeve, and am loyal when I want to be, but I know how awful I can be when I want to be. I want a boy like Harvey and I connected to Alice’s desire to stop being awful. Great review, Estelle.

March 17, 2014 - 11:34 pm

Alexa S. - I liked Julie Murphy’s writing a lot! I was swept up in Side Effects May Vary, curious to see how it would all end. Alice wasn’t particularly likable, but I could understand where she was coming from in a way. And Harvey deserved a shake or two, but I liked him a lot!

March 17, 2014 - 6:22 pm

Alice - I’m very much looking forward to reading this one sometime soon. It sounds like a really interesting story. It sounds like Alice is either a character that is hard to relate to because of her imperfections but I’m glad that that didn’t affect how you felt overall about this story. Not all characters are perfect!

Great review Estelle! 😀

March 17, 2014 - 4:22 pm

Lauren @ love is not a triangle - I’ve gotten very wary of ‘bucket list’ plot lines. But this one sounds like it was done differently. I’ve read a lot of mixed reactions to Alice’s behavior, but I’m glad that you were able to understand where she was coming from. The fact that you want to read this again is definitely a big plus! Great review.

March 17, 2014 - 2:28 pm

Quinn @ Quinn's Book Nook - Side Effects May Vary is definitely a book I want to read, so I’m glad to hear you liked it. It must be quite a shock for Alice after she’s done whatever it is she does, to learn she will have to live with it a lot longer than she was expecting.

March 17, 2014 - 2:21 pm

Maggie @ Just a Couple More Pages - I am such an Alice (not something I’m necessarily proud of, but at least I’m self-aware enough to realize it?) and maybe that explains why we’re friends? I am so mad I only found out about the God-Shaped Hole Thing after I read the book (I think I saw you or G mention it on Twitter) which I guess just means I have to go back and re-read it. There was something I thought of to say while I was reading your review but now I can’t remember. Sometimes I think I subconsciously challenge myself to leave the most random comments on your posts.

March 17, 2014 - 12:19 pm

Addison (Of Spectacles and Books) - I loved this book as well! I enjoyed the imperfectness of Alice. It made me relate to her more on a human level.

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