eileen's Reviews > Side Effects May Vary

Side Effects May Vary by Julie   Murphy
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did not like it
bookshelves: contemporary, young-adult

Check out more of my reviews at Singing and Reading in the Rain!

Side Effects May Vary, contrary to the positive reviews everywhere, was a strong miss for me. I found the main characters annoying, the pacing disarming, the severe gender stereotyping, and the organization messy. I was looking for a cancer book that would punch me in the gut with redemption and justification, but ultimately my gut was untouched and rather disappointed.

First of all, the pacing was rather a mess. We have four different perspectives happening, Alice and Harvey now, and Alice and Harvey then. Not only were Alice and Harvey’s individual voices impossible to tell apart most of the time, but the “then” and “now” scenes were completely jumbled up. We’d randomly have five chapters now, and then ten chapters then, and so on and so forth. It was disorganized, and the plot suffered because of it. The “then” was mostly to establish what Alice did when she first found out she had cancer, but with the lack of a pattern in the chapters, it seemed easier just to split the book into two parts, one half detailing what she went through before she went into remission, and the other half about how she coped with the consequences, as opposed to jumbled up chapters that confused and bored me.


Our two main characters, Alice and Harvey, are well-developed, with a palpable and sound characterization. By the end, I made the conclusion that Side Effects May Vary isn’t really about Alice; it’s about Harvey and his unrequited love for Alice. Either that or this book lost its way in my brain, because while Alice was the one dealing with leukemia, this book strongly focused on the hot-and-cold relationship of Alice and Harvey. Bluntly, Alice was a bitch, and Harvey was a pushover. Alice repeatedly used Harvey for her twisted bucket list of people she wanted to screw over. Personally, I understood why she may have held angry feelings towards these people, but the way she acted outside of those instances were unforgivable. In maybe the second chapter, after Alice finds out she’s in remission, there’s a chapter where she and Harvey are sharing an intimate moment together. Then in the next chapter, she’s hooking up with another guy and is apathetic towards Harvey when he catches her in the process of hooking up. Around halfway through the book, pages and pages later, Alice began harping on and on about how Harvey started dating another girl and how Alice had finally chose him, but he instead went and chose another girl. I would’ve been slightly sympathetic if she hadn’t done the same thing to him earlier with Eric.

Harvey, who was even worse than Alice, was a total pushover. He submitted to everything Alice told him to do, and even when everybody knew that he was being used by her, he seemed okay with it.

”You are in love with me, and you always have been. But this is the truth, Harvey: I don’t love you. Not at all. Not you, not anyone, and anything.” And because that wasn’t enough, because I hadn’t done enough damage, I said, “You’re sad and pathetic. You have no spine, and the fact that you think someone like me could ever love someone like you only proves my point.


After Alice acts like a total bitch to him, he still chooses to go back to her and he still loves her, no matter how bitchy she acts towards him. Harvey actually was a sweet guy, which made Alice deserve him even less because she insinuates that she’s almost better than him, in a way, and even when she tries to act nice, she ruins it with a complete move that made me want to punch her, even if she was in remission.

”You can’t apologize for my feelings and expect things to be better.” He paused. “Especially not when you’re the reason for them.”

I knew what he was talking about, but that hadn’t been what I meant. I didn’t think. “Harvey—“

“No,” he said. “An apology like that makes it sound like you had nothing to do with why I was mad when you were what got me all angry in the first place.” His voice rose with each word. “That’s not okay.”

“I—I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to sound that way.” I almost said it, that I was sorry for how I'd acted and what I did, but instead I said, “Do you want to write up your own apology and I can sign it? Would that work for you?”


Jesus Christ, Alice, just because you had cancer doesn’t mean that you can alienate your best friend and expect him to continue to be your friend after you said something like that. She constantly acted like the world owed her something for making her go through cancer, and while cancer is a devastating disease, she did not have the right to say, “I felt like the universe owed me this.” The universe doesn’t owe anybody anything. As pessimistic as it may sound, her having cancer doesn’t make her special. Cancer is devastating, tragic, and I wouldn’t wish it upon anybody, but people unfortunately still get it, and those who do may be entitled to certain things, but it doesn’t give them the right to act like they’re special or that everybody around them owes them something because they had cancer, which is exactly what Alice did. She was reckless, angry, and didn’t seem to care how she could hurt those around her.

During the “then” chapters, while Alice was going through chemo, I had a question gnawing at my mind: Where were her parents? Harvey was the one driving her to and from her chemo sessions, and wouldn’t you think that her parents would have wanted to be around for something like that? And when she was executing all of her pranks and screwing over all the people who had originally screwed her over, where were her parents? Where were the authority figures that disciplined her or at least Harvey? The stuff they did was serious, and there is no way that the principal didn’t know about what they did.

Finally, the stereotyping used in Side Effects May Vary. A certain scene in general pissed me off, and it was when Alice met Tyson, a gay boy, in the bathroom. Even though they had never really talked before, Tyson started confessing pretty much his entire life story to her, even though no earlier relationship was established. Tyson then proceeded to start crying in the middle of his story, and while it may be true for some guys, it’s an overused gay stereotype. All the gay guys are over emotional, and at first I let it go, but as the trend of stereotyping continued, it was harder to let go.

It wasn’t really a guy car, but it was my car. —Harvey


Because gender stereotyping is totally okay, and admitting that having a car that’s “girly” isn’t something he’s completely comfortable with is also okay, like “girly” things signify weakness and that you’re a pussy, whereas guy things must signify manliness. Another example was when Harvey was confronting Alice about her always using him, and after she dismisses him quickly even though she knows he’s right, he throws this line at her:

"You never surprise me, Alice, which is such a disappointment.” —Harvey


That line was completely unnecessary in what they were talking about. Like “you’re such a disappointment because you always use me and I always know that you’re using me.” But Alice is really shocked by what he said, and how I interpreted was that even though he knew that she was using her, he constantly kept coming to her, indicating how much of a pushover he was and how much of a manipulator Alice was. Out of context, Harvey’s saying that it’s Alice’s job to surprise him and keep him on his toes, even though that’s not what a girl or guy’s role should ever be in a relationship. While the irrelevant translation means nothing towards the actual book, that piece of dialogue should have been worded differently, like, “You’re never going to change, Alice, which is such a disappointment.” Something like that, something that didn’t offend me as extremely as it did. It’s nitpicky beyond nitpicky, but with the earlier instance (not all covered in this review), that one line really affected me.

While I understand why some people could have enjoyed this book, it was extremely hard for me to. The stereotyping thrown everywhere and Alice’s character pissed me off to the point of no return, and I was extremely apathetic towards Side Effects May Vary.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 19, 2014 – Shelved
January 19, 2014 – Shelved as: contemporary
January 19, 2014 – Shelved as: young-adult
January 19, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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Leigh (bibliosky) yup sums up my thoughts. This book was HELLA ANNOYING AND YES WITH ALL CAPS LOCK. Hated the characters and romance in this book!!!!


eileen especially with the stereotyping like what was with that? i can see why some enjoyed it but i was definitely not one of them!


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