Side Effects May Vary


How did I get it?:
I borrowed it!


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?

Julie Murphy’s Side Effects May Vary is a fearless and moving tour de force about love, life, and facing your own mortality.


Side Effects May Vary was one of my most anticipated reads of this year. I was worried it would let me down. Whilst it didn’t blow me away (it wasn’t exactly what I had expected it to be) I still think it was a strong debut and I’m definitely encouraged to read other books by Julie Murphy.

I think what sets aside Side Effects May Vary from other books about cancer, is that the main character Alice isn’t completely likeable. In fact, she’s completely the opposite. I did sympathise with her for suffering with cancer. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. I don’t necessarily have to like a character to enjoy a book, so this is the reason why I continued reading Side Effects May Vary.

Alice is a really bitter, spiteful character. She discovers a secret that a parent is hiding and deals with it really badly. Of course she would, she later finds out about the cancer. The girl has a lot going on. Yet, I found it very odd that I couldn’t connect with her or reason with her. I much preferred her friend/love interest Harvey. I was invested in his story, and really wanted him to be treated the right way.

So, on the one hand, I really disliked Alice and I felt my feelings about the book were mainly frustration. But then, having time to process my thoughts, it really made me think and I’m still thinking now about how hard it must have been for Alice to be living when she had prepared and resigned herself for death. She had her life to sort out when she had already given up. How would you deal with that? I think most people would be happy to still have their lives in front of them. But who knows how we’d deal with that situation?

Side Effects May Vary does jump from Alice and Harvey’s perspective, with past and present chapters. It took me a while to get used to this, but when I did, it worked enough for me. Even if I was screaming for Harvey to realise he was being used.

Side Effects May Vary is actually quite a refreshing read. It’s not the typical terminal illness story, where characters fulfil a bucket list and unfortunately end up passing away. It didn’t have that emotional impact on me. It didn’t particularly move me, but it made me feel something. It confused me and frustrated me and for a debut author to do that, I really think it’s quite impressive.

Would I recommend it?:

15 thoughts on “Side Effects May Vary

  1. I do actually want to read this, even though I usually avoid any books regarding terminal illness. Purely because I find the idea of having to deal with the consequences of telling people your honest opinions about them instead of getting away with it, hilarious (I’m all about the dark humour, me)

  2. I’ve read sooooo many different reviews of this – people who hated it and loved it, and people in between. I really want to read it for myself to find out which side I’m on – it’s one of those books you’ll never know for sure about until you read it yourself, I think. So hopefully I can find it in a library somewhere. Lovely review 🙂

  3. I have read this book too and Alice frustrated me to no end. I think that whilst she had a lot going on, it still isn’t right that she was … ungrateful… for being in remission. It was like she wasn’t happy at all! This book was ok, but not the best out there…

  4. I want to read this because I usually end up liking books where the m/c isn’t a cookie-cutter perfect goody-goody. And it sounds like Alice is anything but. I also really like how complicated it is that she has cancer and is not nice about it. Great review, I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂

    • Thanks Michelle. Alice is certainly not your typical goody-goody character. It’s quite a different take on a terminal illness story. Quite refreshing in a way, it’s definitely not cut from the same mould.

  5. Thanks for the review. This is a book I’m looking forward to reading, but I felt like I needed to give it a little time since I just finished reading The Fault in our Stars not too long ago. I can’t handle another emotional roller coaster like that any time soon.

  6. Hi Chrissi!

    I’m Jana, one of the debut author challenge hosts. Thanks so much for linking up your review! I received this book for review a while back, but have been a bit scared to read it. I’m not a fan of books with characters who have terminal illnesses. I just hate reading about sad things. Sadly, I think it might be good for me that the main character is unlikable. Haha. And I’m glad to hear it didn’t ruin you emotionally. Great review!

    – Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl

    • Hello! It’s so lovely that you’ve stopped by. I was really anticipating this book, but it did feel me leaving torn. On the one hand, the character being unlikable really irked me, on the other hand I found it refreshing. I don’t this is your typical sad, terminal illness story, so hopefully you’ll be fine 😀 Thanks Jana! 🙂

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