Published in March of 2014, Side Effects May Vary is the debut novel of Julie Murphy. I stumbled on this book while browsing my tumblr dashboard and looked it up on Goodreads.com. If you’re not on this site, you should be! It’s wonderful. I’m not very skilled at the art of writing book reviews but you can’t learn, if you don’t practice.
Side Effects May Vary tells the story of Alice and Harvey, two childhood friends. Throughout the book, readers are treated to the perspectives of both Alice and Harvey. Alice ballet dances until one day, she is diagnosed with cancer and everything changes. Growing up with a lawyer mother, honesty is deeply ingrained in who she is as a person. That is…until she sees something that changes how she looks at her family. Suddenly, her mother isn’t who she thought she was and cancer has given her an ‘expiration’ date. Harvey has never known his father and he hasn’t really ever wanted to find him. His mom is the local ballet teacher and a close friend of Alice’s parents, for her, Harvey plays piano even though he doesn’t like it. Most importantly, Harvey is a love-sick, push-over when it comes to Alice and he knows it. Actually, everyone knows it.
Julie Murphy gives us a look at Alice’s actions directly after being diagnosed and a year later when she has to face everything that she’s said and done. She’s created a sort of “bucket list” with the aim of getting back at everyone who has hurt ever her. Here’s where Harvey comes in: he acts as her chauffeur and partner in crime, he’s also the voice of reason and sometimes he manages to get through to her. All the while, Alice manipulates him like soft putty in her hands.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, though I didn’t find either of the main characters likeable. The supporting characters were fabulous and for the most part very realistic, they seem to have their heads screwed on right while Alice and Harvey…well…don’t. It’s easy to write a story where the cancer-ridden character does a bunch of crazy stunts and gets away with it, however, Murphy doesn’t give in to the template and that’s what makes Side Effects May Vary stand out. She writes a unique narrative showing what circumstances can do to a person, and how life has a funny way of leveling the playing field.
I give it 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for everyone. It’s a must read!