As the title indicates, reactions to this books may vary. Indeed, they already have varied quite widely amongst my friends, varying from hatred to love, hitting pretty much every range in between. Coming off a streak of books I didn’t like, I was admittedly nervous to embark on Side Effects May Vary. Now that I’ve read it, I can definitely understand the responses it’s been getting, and am happy to report that I find myself favorable.
Side Effects May Vary reminded me most of the books of Courtney Summers. See, Alice is not a nice girl. She’s popular, bitchy and apt to say and do mean things without any guilt. Trying to act nice exhausts her and saying nice things is even more painful to her. Whether you like Side Effects May Vary will depend to a great degree whether you can comprehend Alice, and if you can avoid loathing her. She’s not necessarily likable but if you actively hate her, it’s going to be a problem. Personally, I thought she was well-drawn, and appreciated her candor and bitterness, as a welcome break from the sweet, quirky heroines that predominate. It helps too that Alice truly knows the kind of person she is, and suffers no delusions of herself as a saint.
What I found most compelling about Side Effects May Vary was the unique look at cancer. Most novels about cancer focus on cancer. The character gets it, suffers, and either dies or doesn’t at the end of the book. In this case, the reader learns about Alice’s cancer at the end of chapter one, and learns that she goes into remission a couple chapters later, miraculously maybe safe. Side Effects May Vary is less about cancer and more about the way cancer and then the absence of it affected Alice’s relationships.
The narrative switches between Alice and Harvey, and also between the present timeline, remission, and the past, cancer. Murphy does a good job with the dual narrative and the timeline hopping. For all of the switching around that was happening, I was never confused or unsure which perspective I was reading. Harvey’s essentially a foil to Alice, the perpetual nice guy doormat.
Harvey had been in love with Alice for years, but she didn’t give him a real chance until she found out she was dying of leukemia. While she deteriorated, their love bloomed. Once her cancer goes away, she no longer knows how to be around him. Now this I loved. Alice fears commitment so much more when she has to live with it, which is completely logical to me, but maybe not to most people. With so much instalove or dumping people for their own good, it’s rare to see fear of commitment done well, but Alice is the poster girl for it.
What Left Me Wanting More:
The ending felt a bit too easy to me. That’s about as specific as I can be without spoilers, but a lot of people did things they shouldn’t have and don’t ever have to really deal with the emotional aftermath to a degree which seems realistic.
The Final Verdict:
Though not as acerbically witty as Courtney Summers’ novels, Side Effects May Vary has a similar appeal. If you like somewhat less likable main characters or want to read a cancer book that is not your usual cancer book, I recommend Side Effects May Vary.