Book Review: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Posted April 28, 2014 by Kara in book review, Kara / 4 Comments

Book Review: Side Effects May Vary by Julie MurphySide Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy
Published by Balzer + Bray on March 18th, 2014
Genres: contemporary, young adult
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon

The Fault in Our Stars meets Sarah Dessen in this lyrical novel about a girl with cancer who creates a take-no-prisoners bucket list that sets off a war at school—only to discover she's gone into remission.When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs. So she convinces her best friend to help her with a crazy bucket list that's as much about revenge as it is about hope. But just when Alice's scores are settled, she goes into remission, and now she must face the consequences of all she's said and done. Contemporary realistic fiction fans who adore Susane Colasanti and Jenny Han and stories filled with romance and humor will find much to love in this incredible debut.

I love Julie Murphy’s writing. I get why people didn’t love this one, it completely makes sense to me. The protagonist is hard to understand, she’s selfish, foolish, and mean. I think very few readers are going to relate to her struggles in any way. She has leukemia, but she’s still pretty much an awful person, and I think it was an interesting juxtaposition for the author to make.

Usually you are supposed to sympathize with the character with the illness, but here it was pretty much impossible. I think that was interesting. I’ve always said that I needed to have likable characters in some way, shape, or form to maintain my interest in a book I don’t feel that way anymore. And though Harvey was a character I could get behind, I truly think it was Alice that kept me reading. 

Why? Because she was unique and different and unlike any character I have read before. I wanted to know more about her motivations and I wanted to understand why she was the way she was. I come away from this novel getting most of that, and even though the book is closed and I still really don’t think I like Alice, I also don’t have to. It’s very hard for me to explain. I was just mesmerized by her character and personality. I understand why she did some of the awful things she did, even though I wouldn’t have done them. I can’t understand why she used Harvey the way she did, but I do know that there are many people that behave the same way in the real world. Basically, I think I approached this book in a different way, and therefore it was almost everything I expected it to be. 

Aside from the characters, the author’s writing is beautiful, vivid, and full of emotion while still remaining simplistic. I look at the type of writer I want to be, and I think this is it. I feel like we should be able to say what we want to say in as few words as possible and keep a nice balance throughout. Which, obviously, is way easier said than done, but Julie Murphy nails it. I felt like I was there with the characters through all of their struggles. Maybe it was easier for me to imagine some of the cancer stuff because I have had several close relatives that have had it and/or died from it–I have actually sat in on a chemo session before–so it was easy for me to picture her dealing with and management of the illness. It was a little hard to believe that someone could just go into remission without a reason, but it was fairly easy for me to just go with it.

Lord this review is rambling.

In closing, I just want to mention why it got 4 stars from me and not 5. Sometimes I felt the alternating narratives detracted from my enjoyment of the book. I wish I had seen a scene from the other character’s perspective and vice versa. Sometimes it felt jumpy to me going back and forth from the past to the present. I just felt there was too much going on at times. 

Also, this is definitely a character-driven novel, and I felt I must mention that. It does have a plot but I think the characters are what is going to keep you reading here no matter what


This review checks off the “Written by a Woman” square for Bookish Bingo.


4 responses to “Book Review: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

  1. I just picked this up from the library even though many said it wasn’t that great. I think it is interesting that we are not suppose to like the main character who happens to be dying. I do love a great character driven read though so I can’t wait to give this one a chance.

    Thanks for the great review!
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