Blog Tour: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Rating: 5 stars
Pub Date: March 18, 2014
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Genre: young adult contemporary, realistic fiction with a side of romance
Format/Source: ARC from the author & DRC from Edelweiss
Status: standalone

Disclaimer: I was given this ARC by Julie as a gift and received the digital review copy from Harper Collins in exchange for an honest review as part of the blog tour, which was organized & hosted by The Fantastic Flying Book Club. The full tour schedule can be found HERE. Please go give my fellow tour hosts some love!

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?

Origin story time: Last year, as many of you know, I attended TLA for the first time. My primary reason in doing so was to meet Jennifer Echols, one of my all-time favorite authors. Jennifer made the time to sit down with me to talk books. One of the things she said to me was that John Corey Whaley was raving about his friend's book, which was coming out in 2014. I filed that away. Later that day, I happened to be in a signing line behind this woman with really awesome hair. She was speaking to the author who was actually signing and mentioned her book Side Effects May Vary. BLINK! went the lightbulb above my head. "Oh my gosh," I gushed. "Jennifer Echols told me about you!"

And that was when I met Julie Murphy, the writer of SEMV and, yes, the owner of the really awesome hair. Both of us live in Dallas so we started seeing each other a lot as I got more and more involved with the local ya community. Signings, launches, panels, dinners, the works. Those in our local group were constantly gushing about how amazing Side Effects is (also Harvey) so it was impossible not to get caught up in it, even though I hadn't read the book for myself. I love how close our local group is, and I love being a blogger voice able to constantly tell people how awesome my local authors are. I had been talking Side Effects up for months before I ever even had the opportunity to request a review copy.

Sadly, my request was never approved, but I kept talking. I mean, I love Julie so I knew I had to love her book too...right? Then, just before Christmas, Julie messaged me and told me how much she appreciated all my promotion, and she wanted to make sure I got a copy of the book since it wasn't going on Edelweiss (ironically, it did end up on EW, s'matter of fact). It was one of the most touching messages I've ever received. But here's the truth: every time (I'm serious: EVERY SINGLE TIME) I read one of my author friends' books, I am secretly terrified I won't like it. The stress of this situation makes me nauseous. Even after my ARC arrived and I also received a digital copy, I put off reading Side Effects for a few weeks because I just didn't know how to crack open this book I'd been hearing about for 9 months. Finally, I couldn't put it off any more. My curiosity would not allow me to possess this book without finally finding out why everyone runs around yelling TEAM HARVEY all the time.

The verdict? I FREAKING LOVE THIS BOOK. Look, you can sit there all you want and say I'm padding this review because Julie is my friend, but the truth is that she's just a damn good writer. Julie is amazingly talented for so many reasons, but I think the best is that she isn't afraid to be real. Yes, this book is fiction, but there is so much of real life inside its pages, its chapters, its very sentences. The essence of this book is nothing more than reality. This book is not your normal contemporary. It is not a slightly exploitive but beloved novel describing harsh life scenarios and the teens living them. It is not a squishy-feeling-inducing true love story. It is a gritty, in-your-face tale of a teenage brat who gets cancer and does not deal well with the situation or the people that she somewhat believes caused it such as her mother, her ex-boyfriend, her frenemy, or even herself.

Alice is one of the nastiest female protagonists I've ever met, and yet, I love her. I'm not a fan of brash people in real life; I am not a fan of the IDGAF attitude that plagues our society these days. But...but...Alice. Her realness, the raw edges of her personality, the dark and terrible parts of her brain that influence her into making some really awful choices are what make me love her. Alice is not nice so it might actually be okay to say she deserves a lot of what comes to her, but I still found her worth my sympathy because she's simply a girl who has been given bad situation after bad situation and was never taught how to deal with them or how to respond like a non-sociopathic human being. The fact of the matter is that Alice is not likable, but I like her for that fact. Not everyone has to be nice, and this is so utterly refreshing! It's nice to have a protagonist who brings it on herself but still inspires so many beautiful emotions in me. I'll tell you now: if you are only interested in books with likable and nice girl main characters, this book is not for you. BUT if you are interested in books with main characters who develop and grow and then backslide but then mature and develop some more, this book is probably for you. The other good thing is that Alice isn't totally irredeemable as long as she can hold on to the best part of her: Harvey.

Harvey and Alice just might be the two characters in any book I've ever read that seem like they could be one person. I wish I had a personal demon and angel living on my shoulders because I would name them Harvey and Alice. It's not that these two are like twinsies and finish each others sandwiches sentences, but somehow, they're just so entertwined. When I read about the two of them together, I think of that episode of How I Met Your Mother when Marshall and Lily realize they can't live without Ted because they're like those trees that grow around each other and to separate them would kill them. Alice and Harvey are like that. But it's okay because as horrible and mean and manipulative and despicable as Alice can be, Harvey is good and kind and genuine and honorable. Harvey is a boy who loves and is in love with his best friend so he does everything he can to save her, even when it's doing some awful things at her bequest or even leaving her. This book is about Alice's redemption from worst human being ever who happens to have cancer to socially and physically functioning almost-but-still-not-quite teen girl, and it's about Harvey's growth from personal doormat of the worst human being ever to guy who stands up for himself and for good. I hate it when people use the term journey when they're not actually traveling (here's looking at you, Every Reality TV Show Ever But Especially The Bachelor/The Bachelorette), but it is the best description for the emotional and mental maturation these two characters endure.

Technically speaking, this is a really interesting book. I love that there are two narrators AND that there's an almost sliding-doors thing going on with the parallel timelines. It's all very wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff, and I dig it so hard that I could have been an extra in Holes if it weren't for the fact that Camp Green Lake was only for boys. Oh, and that movie came out years ago. And I don't act. But I do digress. I just love that there are basically four stories going on at once, and I love watching Alice and Harvey's perspective change throughout the story, even though the timing is so weird considering nearly every other chapter is from the past. With this technique, I guess there are two ways you could approach it: write out the story linearly timing-wise and then zip the two times together or write it from start to finish and allow the future to affect the past and vice versa. I believe (tell me if I'm wrong, Julie!) that Julie used the second method, and I think it worked out well. The story unfolded very naturally and information was always present when I felt I needed it the most. Both the narrator and time switches flowed well, and I never felt like I was being manipulated as a reader, which is more than okay in my book.

Okay, even without three paragraphs of the origins of my relationship with Julie, this is getting to be a long review. I hope I haven't scared you away for being so prolific. This book is simply amazing, and I am honored to have had the opportunity to be involved with it in any way. While Side Effects May Vary is necessarily the kind of book that I'll say things like, "It was so entertaining," or "That was a fun read," it is the kind of book that makes me say, "This book is important for everyone to read," and: "This book explores the toxicity of relationships and asks the hard question of how long do your force yourself to remain willfully ignorant of manipulation by someone you love," and wonder "Do bad situations create bad people or do bad people create bad situations for themselves?" and think "God bless Alice for doing bad things that I don't have the lady balls to do" because sometimes, all you want is to witness a crappy ex-boyfriend getting publicly humiliated in high school, and Alice totally made it happen. In closing, do yourself a favor and read this book. I promise you will feel all the feels and think all the thoughts and hopefully be a better person for it.

The waitress nodded and walked off to the bar to retrieve our drinks. After she'd brought those back with a basket of microwaved break, Harvey said, "Question game. What do you want to be when you grow up?"

You'd think that after all these years of playing the question game there would be no questions left to ask, but that wasn't the case. We'd asked each other this same question–What do you want to be when you grow up?–a million times, but the answer seemed to change every time.

"This time last year I might have said 'alive.' But I don't know," I said, sitting in silence for a moment, trying to menally sort this. I'd never  thought about professions or anything. I guess when I was litter I wanted to be a ballerina, but no one ever does anything they plan on, so I never thought much about it. Thinking about it seemed like a waste of my now time, but I guessed there was one thing I always wanted to be. "In control," I said.

The corner of his lip lifted and he shook his head, like he'd won a bet.

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About the Author:
Julie lives in North Texas with her husband who loves her, her dog who adores her, and her cat who tolerates her. When she's not writing or trying to catch stray cats, she works at an academic library. Side Effects May Vary is Julie's debut novel.

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