I wanted to read Side Effects May Vary because I am a sucker for an emotional book. Anything about cancer or illness just screams my name and I have never really been able to put a finger on it besides the fact that I am a reader, and we all have things that push our buttons.
Side Effects May Vary is told in dual perspective, from Alice the main character with cancer who suddenly finds out she is in a miraculous remission. And also from Harvey, the boy who has love her forever, and helps her with her Dying to do list. They grew up together so the dynamics between them are complicated especially since they grew apart in high school. Alice got a jock boyfriend who she later found out things about and Harvey pretty much just stayed the same. But when Alice finds out she is sick, Harvey is the first person she goes to. At times, it was hard for me to still even really like and respect Alice though because when she found out she was in remission, we don't get her side of it, and she starts avoiding Harvey. I think that she often really takes advantage of Harvey, knowing his feelings for her, and she just takes him along for the ride. But as I continued reading about her, I realized that it was all defensive. Due to her personality and some of the things she'd seen in her life, she is afraid of feelings and commitments, so while I still don't agree with how mean she is and how she takes advantage of her close relationship with Harvey, I understand. I also see some character growth in her, that she realizes what she's doing, and that she isn't the person she wants to be inside. The transformation was so slow, especially when she is given a new lease on life, and nothing has an expiration date anymore.
That is the other thing about Side Effects May Vary, it is told in the then and the now, with the now starting right before she found out that she was in remission. So, in some of the time we get Alice's then while Harvey's now and I didn't really know why she was avoiding except maybe fear and not knowing what to do with herself with time she thought she would not have. At one point she said a really profound thing about she had come to terms with being sick and dying and now the future and the not knowing was completely overwhelming to her. The then and now was a good format for this though because we see how things are and also what happened to lead Alice and Harvey to that point.
Overall, I really liked their romance, they had a lot of history and chemistry, and I knew that what they felt was strong even if at times, neither of them went about it in the right way. But I think that Alice's fear of committment was really drawn out and it took a lot for her to get around it. Here's a great example of her voice and how she would tell the truth to Harvey, which made me feel a little less sorry for him at times, because Alice didn't lie about what she was dealing with and he knew her personality.
“You freak the shit out of me, Harvey. I don’t get it—how you can feel like there are no consequences for living with your feelings on your sleeve. Because there are, you know. There are consequences so horrible, and I wish I could ignore them like you can—the feelings and their consequences. I wish it didn’t matter to me.”
I like the other touches in the book, such as Alice's dancing, her rivalry with Celeste, as well as Harvey's relationship with his mom and the extension of his piano playing and getting his independence through quitting and getting a job.
Side Effects May Vary was different from what I expected, and while I flew through the book, it wasn't the emotional hard hitter in the way that I thought it would be. There is still some ups and downs, but it is more a look at the lives of two people, seeing how they deal with illness, family issues, and their long standing friendship and feelings of love and not knowing what to do with it. Another thing that I had an issue with was her miraculous intermission. One day she was at death's door and the next, the doctor told her she was in remission. But I could mostly ignore it for the unique angle it gave on the book--about how cancer's presence or lack of could really effect people.
But I do think that it is a neat angle to take on the whole sick girl theme. That she was ready to die and then all of the sudden healthy and life being thrown at her quickly. She is having to think about college, and what she wants for her life, and also facing some of the consequences from her dying to do list. Which were pretty epic and also some cruel. She says and acts in some ways, and it was hard to see how it effected Harvey and she had no idea. But the girls in this were some serious mean girls and boy. They received it but also dished it back out in some pretty horrific ways. But it really showed some big growth in Harvey when he stood up to her about it and gave her a choice and walked away, leaving things on her court.
The ending was good for the story, and it showed that Alice really was changing and trying to do things the right way, not only to get Harvey, but for herself and for her family. It showed Harvey standing up for himself despite being hurt and still loving Alice. And it gave a glimpse of what their happily ever afters could look like without knotting the bow and making into some epic series that follows their lives.
Bottom Line: Good book that shows Alice getting a new lease on life and her love story with Harvey, the boy who was and always is in love with her.