Book Talk: Side Effects May Vary By Julie Murphy





book synopsis

Alice is diagnosed with leukemia and the prognosis is not at all good. She knows she is going to die and she begins living knowing that — things like telling people how she feels, getting revenge, etc. Then she’s given a clean bill of health and is left with the prospect of learning how to LIVE again when she thought she was going to die AND realizes that she has to face the consequences of all the things she did/said when she thought she was going to die soon.

good books to readI’ve been sitting on this post for a while. I finished having VERY complicated feelings — I like that because yay thinking– and I really had to process it all. Typically when I finish a book I can easily say, “I liked it! I loved it! Or EHHH not for me.” or something to this affect. But with Side Effects May Vary? I just wasn’t able to pin down my feelings for this one right away like I can with most books. And the more I sat on my feelings…I think the more I really liked it. It was like how sometimes when you make a chili or a stew and the next day it tastes even better…the spices and the flavors really got a chance to shine. That’s how this book felt for me once I let it sink in.

What worked:

1. I loved how DIFFERENT this “cancer story” was: Typically most of the books that I have encountered deal with somebody being diagnosed with cancer or something to that affect. The alternating chapter DID show her dealing with the diagnosis but the main thrust of the story is about how everything changed when, after being so close to dying, she gets a clean bill of health and has to deal with all the repercussions of what she did and said — things like revenge plots and also things she said to people that she can’t take back now that she’s not dying. She has to deal with all that. It makes it all very interesting because, despite what I assumed it was about, this wasn’t a story about a girl trying to complete this super meaningful bucket list or even trying to make these profound life changes after almost dying but rather she was just trying to come to terms with what to do now that she lived. How does she start planning for a future she didn’t think she would have? It didn’t always make her likeable or sympathetic but the struggle was real to me and, by the end, her story hit me really hard.

2. Honestly Alice is going to be a tough pill to swallow for some people but I didn’t HATE her: Don’t get me wrong. Girl sucks a lot (seriously, she’s manipulative and mean and downright awful most of the time) and honestly her redemption is kind of miniscule for most of the book. But for some reason I understood her in ways even though I didn’t like her for much of it. I mean, she THINKS she is going to DIE. She’s so close to dying. There’s almost like this new perspective one would have at that and she knows that there aren’t consequences to what she’s saying/doing. I can’t imagine the reality shift that happens when you are so close to death but then you are given a clean bill of health. Her road to redemption is a long, arduous road and it’s messy and we barely get to see ANY of it, just really the start to it, but I really felt for her in her long road to figuring out how to live again when she was resigned to dying. We don’t get to see the happy neat bow, but in my head, I see her story playing out to where she really does take a lot of meaning from her experience once she fully comes to terms with it.

What didn’t:

1. The timeline of the story was one thing that detracted from my reading experience for sure: It was so jumpy. It was Alice and Harvey in alternating perspectives but not only that there was past and present switches for both. So it might be something like Alice Present, Harvey Past, Alice Past, Harvey Present and it was just really hard for me to get planted into the story. It may not be a problem for others but I kept getting frustrated by it because I was being pulled out of it. It made sense in that we needed to know the backstory and how it lead to everything in the now but it didn’t flow well for me and I often got frustrated trying to keep it all straight.

2. For a good majority of the novel I felt really nothing emotionally: I’m a pretty emotional reader and I felt like this should have elicited something from me pretty early on but it took quite a bit for it to…but when it did it did. There was just this wall that just kept me at an emotional distance to a lot of what was going on until I got further on. It may have been the fact that the characters were hard to really get a good sense of because the perspective change. It could have been because Alice herself was hard to like and therefore I kept trying and trying to find ways to connect with her. I eventually DID but it took a long, long while. It could have also been because I loved Harvey in theory but I become frustrated by trying to see what made him LOVE her so much that he would continually take her crap. There was supposed to be something so incredibly special about her, as we see from Harvey’s devotion, but even in the “past” chapters I couldn’t SEE what it was that made him so over the moon about her. But, like I said, I eventually did eventually break down that barrier and had a huge emotional surge/point of connection/reason to care.


book reviewsBottom line, I STILL can’t quite simply put into words what I feel about this one. I’ve tried. It’s a complicated book and you have to be okay with the fact that Alice is REALLY quite awful and hard to like. I personally don’t have to like the character of a book to like the book but I can wholly admit she is a tough pill to swallow and she’s angry and honestly treats people like crap a lot of the time and sometimes it is SO hard to want to care for her in any way— but for some reason I found her so complicated and intriguing and I loved the messiness of the story. In how hard it might be to start living again when you thought you were dying and everything you did/said because you thought there would be no consequences to them, because you were DYING, are now things you have to be held accountable for. I appreciated the freshness and uniqueness of the story even if half the time I felt frustrated and angry. I love that it made me think a ton. This book is going to be so polarizing among readers and I’m interested in seeing the dialogue on both side.
short book review

Julie Murphy Side Effects May Vary

Let’s Talk: Have you read this one? What did you think of it? Tell me your thoughts on Alice! Did her personality impact how you read this one?

The Perpetual Page-Turner


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About Jamie

Jamie is a 32 year old married lady (with a new baby!!) who is in denial that she's actually that old to be a married lady and a mom. When she's not reading you can find her doing Pilates followed by eating ice cream, belting out Hamilton (loud and offkey) and having adventures with her husband, daughter and rescue dog.


  1. I liked Alice because she seemed genuine. I enjoyed that it wasn’t a self sacrificing cancer book a la John Green (although I loved me some TFiOS). Alice is a hot mess, but in such a tragically human way. Nothing about being a teenager is easy, and I like Alice represents some of the worst parts of ourselves that tend to come out in times of pain. My review is coming out Tuesday.

  2. I have heard others say the same thing about its format and characters. And like I said to the other reviews: I’m still going to read it. Thank you!

    P.S. I like what Addison said. I’m going check out her review.

  3. You said it best when you stated that you don’t have to like a character in order to like a book. I feel like people are quick to jump to that (even the other way around too — loving a character so much, that it creates a shadow over the rest of the story). I was blown away by this being Julie’s debut. Her writing is exceptional, in my opinion. I am so eager to read more by her. This past weekend I attended her book launch party & it was amazing to see so many people come out and support her. If you haven’t met her yet, I hope you get to soon. She is so, so lovely!

  4. I’m going to have to skip this one. I don’t like my reading experiences to be frustrating – there’s too many other books to be read – and Alice (and her romance with Harvey) sound incredibly frustrating. Not my cup of tea I guess. :/

  5. I’m really glad you enjoyed this one, I’ve read mixed reviews about it but it’s been on my wishlist since last summer! I’m really interested in reading this one even though it isn’t a typical ‘cancer book’ (especially since I tend to dislike regular cancer books). Thanks for the awesome review & I’m glad you enjoyed Side Effects May Vary (even if you had some issues with it)! 🙂

  6. I like the fact that Alice is so unlikeable. It’s refreshing! I completely agree with Addison here. I like having characters who have to work hard for me to like them. Redemption stories are so much more interesting to me than those with characters who are too perfect. Plus, Alice really is that evil little voice in my mind who says and does all the bad things. I totally have an ex who I would have liked to see publicly shamed. I’m not inherently a bad girl or a mean girl so I like that Alice is out there doing her thing and seemingly giving no effs…at least outwardly. Her swcret sensitivity only makes the whole thing more crazy and entertaining.

  7. We actually had a lot of similar reactions to Side Effects May Vary! Alice was definitely hard to swallow, and Harvey needed to be shaken (a lot), but I really ended up feeling like the book was well-done. It’s not necessarily a new favorite, but it was a solid read.

  8. I LOVE your review on a post-it! One of the best review ideas I’ve seen. Sooo glad I found your personal blog after seeing you on Top Ten Tuesday.


  1. […] it as a very human thing to be flawed so sometimes they feel more real to me). I think a lot about Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy. The character is downright awful but, oh god, did I feel her…what it must have been like to […]