Side Effects May Vary

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3.7
 
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Side Effects May Vary
Author(s)
Publisher
Age Range
13+
Release Date
March 18, 2014
ISBN
9780062245359
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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.

Editor reviews

1 reviews

Reactions May Vary, But Worth the Risk
Overall rating 
 
3.7
Plot 
 
3.0
Characters 
 
4.0
Writing Style 
 
4.0
What I Liked:
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.
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User reviews

2 reviews

Overall rating 
 
4.0
Plot 
 
4.5  (2)
Characters 
 
3.5  (2)
Writing Style 
 
4.0  (1)
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Interesting Premise and Story, Just With an Not-so-Great Protagonist
Overall rating 
 
3.7
Plot 
 
4.0
Characters 
 
3.0
Writing Style 
 
4.0
MY OPINION
When I first heard about this book I automatically wanted to read it. I was expecting a fun book where the characters had to face the things they did in the revenge bucket list. It sounded more like a fun read to me, but it wasn't really that fun.
This book was told from two points of view:
Alice: She's our cancer girl and let me say this: she's a bitch. I feel bad saying this, but she's probably the most unlikeable main character I ever had in a book. She's rude to everyone, selfish, and the whole entire book is basically her using Harvey. I would chalk her meanness to her cancer, but there are sections in this book before the cancer and she acts the same way. And there were points where she almost redeems herself (with the dog and at the end) but nope, she goes back to her rude self.
But I got the feeling that the fact that Alice is an unlikeable character was supposed to come though. The author wanted us to dislike her.

Harvey:Poor Harvey. I felt sorry for the guy. You can tell that he honestly loves Alice but, as I said before, Alice uses that fact against him. Harvey gets used and used and used all throughout this book by Alice and it just makes you hate Alice more. He eventually stands up to Alice, but still, almost the whole plot revolves around him getting used.
And Harvey is a really nice guy (which makes me question how he is friends with Alice) which makes it worse.

This oddly brings me to the main reason as to why I couldn't fully get into this book: the whole book is just constant angst between Alice and Harvey where Harvey loves Alice but get used by Alice. Oftentimes in the book Alice is going back and forth between staying with Harvey as more than a friend and keeping distance. Then Harvey is going back and forth between loving Alice and leaving Alice because she's being a bitch. To be honest, this both annoyed and exhausted me.

IN CONCLUSION
Don't get me wrong, I didn't dislike this book.
Sure, I had issues with Alice's character and the angsty romance, but I did like reading this book.
Alice only told half of the book, the other half was told by Harvey who is a character that I like.
I also thought this was an interesting contemporary book.
It didn't wow me, but I did like the book and was invested in the story at points.
Do I recommend this book? That depends on who you are.
A lot of people probably wouldn't be able to look past Alice's character and dislike the entire book due to her. So if you are unable to read books with unlikable characters, this book is not for you. If you can read books with unlikeable characters, you can give this book a try if you want to.
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Good book that shows Alice getting a new lease on life and her love story with Harvey, the boy who w
Overall rating 
 
4.5
Plot 
 
5.0
Characters 
 
4.0
Writing Style 
 
N/A
3.75
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.
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