What if you’d been living your life as if you were dying—only to find out that you had your whole future ahead of you?
When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis is grim. To maximize the time she does have, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs—however she sees fit. She convinces her friend Harvey, whom she knows has always had feelings for her, to help her with a crazy bucket list that’s as much about revenge (humiliating her ex-boyfriend and getting back at her arch nemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger and reliving some childhood memories). But just when Alice’s scores are settled, she goes into remission.
Now Alice is forced to face the consequences of all that she’s said and done, as well as her true feelings for Harvey. But has she done irreparable damage to the people around her, and to the one person who matters most?
I finished this book sometime before writing this review and to be honest I’m still not sure how I feel about. I didn’t hate the book. In fact I really, really enjoyed it. Great story, great writing and great characters, for the most part. I guess this is where my problem is. There were two main voices in Side Effects May Vary, Harvey and Alice. And for as much as I loved Harvey, I had the hardest time even liking Alice. I desperately wanted to, but she would not cooperate with me in anyway, well mostly. I’m sure this was Murphy’s plan, to not make her likable, but it has caused some conflict on my part in terms of feelings.
Side Effects May Vary is about high school students Alice and Harvey. They have been friends just about their whole lives. They grew-up together and grew apart together. Since high school started they have barely spoken yet secretly yearn to be close once again. Well secretly for Alice, but right out there for Harvey as he is insanely in love with her. After a year of barely speaking Alice finds out she has cancer and there is only one person she wants by her side, Harvey. You see, Alice has a list of things to do, revenges to take, good deeds to accomplish, undefined feelings for Harvey to deal with. And as it looks like Alice’s life is closer to an end she gets even closer to Harvey. But when the unthinkable happens and she goes into remission, Alice is left with the repercussion for everything she felt and said and did. She may have her life back, but when all is said and done, will she still have her best friend.
The book is told through 2 different voices(Alice/Harvey), in 2 different spans of time(now/then). As a reader you get to see what led to where Alice and Harvey are in terms of their relationship/friendship and what is happening to destroy them in the present. Having both voices and a jumping timeline isn’t as hard to follow as you may think. It was actually a great choice on the author’s part in my opinion. Being able to understand what is going in in both Harvey and Alice’s heads was important in this story. And seeing how things drastically changed was too. I actually really loved that part of the book as I got to know both teens better as the circumstances of their lives changed. But this was also the problem for me as I got to know both characters.
I understood Alice’s motivations and reasoning for why she acted the way she did. She was flat out scared and I got that. People do and say horrible things when they are afraid of living their lives and in Alice’s case, an unexpected chance to actually have a life. She had made peace with what was supposed to be her end. She did the things she wanted to do before she had to say goodbye. But what I didn’t like was her methods. She was mean and hateful and selfish. She used people when she felt like it and had little remorse for things she had done, to those she hurt. And the way she treated Harvey just about killed me. He was the sweetest boy that wore his heart on his sleeve, his feelings for Alice out there, for everyone to see. He let Alice use him and treat him like dirt and then come back for more because he loved her and knew she was better than she acted. It broke my heart how she had the power to destroy him and used it when she could. But I also loved how they were when they were together and Alice let her walls down. I guess that’s the part that makes this hard because Alice wasn’t a bad person. She just closed herself off from her feelings and came across that way.
Basically Side Effects May Vary is a book I won’t easily forget since I can’t seem to iron out my feelings. Usually when I have trouble liking a main character I just don’t enjoy the book, but that isn’t the case with this one because I actually really enjoyed it and would highly recommend it to others to read. It was a great story of change and second chances and being afraid. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to clearly explain my feelings on this book, but I’m so happy that I got to read it.