Published by Balzer & Bray on March 18, 2014
Genres: Contemporary YA
Also by this author: Dumplin'
Source: For Review
I received this book for review consideration from the publisher. This in no way swayed my opinion of the book. Pinky swear!
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.
I’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.
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.
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.
Bottom 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.
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?