There are a lot of YA books about cancer out there. Some of them are good, some of them are awful. Most of them hang out in this awkward in-between space where books with both a lot of merit and a lot of problems go to be obsessed over by people who don’t care how realistic their depictions of cancer and/or human interaction are.
Julie Murphy’s Side Effects May Vary falls into the good category. Sure, the main character, Alice, isn’t particularly likeable. She was not a nice girl before her cancer diagnosis, and she’s not nice after.
But hey – that’s realistic. Yes, some people abruptly realize they’ve been straying down a bad path when they find themselves face to face with death, but more don’t. More stay themselves right up ’til the moment they die.
Or find themselves in remission, in Alice’s case.
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, who 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 archnemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger). 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 caused irreparable damage to the people around her—and to the one person who matters most?
This book was painful to read at points. Realistically. Which is what makes it great.
Alice, like most people, is not magically transformed. She has to face up to the havoc she’s wreaked and decide how – if – she’s going to fix it. Because going into remission isn’t a cure-all.
And side effects may vary.
Have you read Side Effects May Vary? What do you think about THIS kind of ‘cancer book’?