I’ve been meaning to read Julie Murphy’s Side Effects May Vary for awhile. I’ve had it on hold at the library twice before, but never got there to pick it up. Now that I’ve finally read it, I can’t say it’s a book that I’d have missed had I never ended up reading it, but I did enjoy reading it most of the time.
It’s not a bad book. There are lots of things I liked. It definitely has its moments of hilarity and emotion and depth. It’s written fairly well. It’s cute and sweet. The romance story is nice (mostly). I liked the ending quite a lot. I liked some of the issues it covered, particularly about life and death. The non-linear narrative (told in Harvey:Then, Alice:Then, Alice:Now, Harvey:Now format, though not in that order) grew on me. There’s a good amount of sexual tension and angst. I liked Harvey. Alice’s Bucket List thing was kinda cool. I liked Alice sometimes. I thought she suffers through some really interesting and challenging stuff – I mean, being diagnosed with Leukaemia and then going suddenly into remission is certainly a lot to deal with (that’s not a spoiler, it’s in the blurb and happens fairly early on in the book) – which made it quite a good representation of human responses to change, etc etc.
In saying all this though, I didn’t love this book. For a few reasons, but mainly for two. #1) I didn’t like Alice most of the time. I found her mean and selfish and immature. Basically, she annoyed me for the majority of the novel. Of course, there were times she redeemed herself, and that was all good, but I still didn’t really like her. Sure, she’s a flawed character and makes mistakes (blah blah) and I get that, but it doesn’t mean I have to like her. There were a lot of times I felt sorry for her. You know, I guess it’s a difficult to find out you’re going to die and then to find out you’re going to live and you have to face your future, but I still wanted to slap Alice across the face when she was being an idiot and hurting Harvey. Which brings me to #2) This is one of the those novels where the romance is hindered by unnecessary and pointless obstacles. I could see what Murphy was trying to get at about love being a risk and the inevitability of forever not being for forever and one person not wanting to hurt the other in the distant future etc etc, but Alice and Harvey’s relationship just went around in circles and it was incredibly infuriating. I know there are always complications in relationships and sometimes people get confused or anxious about their feelings. That’s all good and realistic and sometimes that kind of thing can work really well in a book, but Alice’s anxieties just didn’t work for me, or at least not in the way they were presented. I believe that if you feel something for someone, you should be honest with yourself and with them and you should go ahead and take the risk. Sure, you might not be able to promise them forever, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enter into love. Love doesn’t have to be forever. Sure, we all wish it was. We all wish for that forever love. And maybe we’ll get it, but maybe forever can also be determined in varying degrees of time. A few years can be forever, for example. The point I’m getting at is that it’s better to have loved than not to love at all (yeah, a cliche, whatever). I think this is the underlining moral of the book, but I don’t think the payoff was quite as successful as it could have been.
But to be clear, this isn’t a horrible book. It definitely has a lot of good pointers and it’s an interesting depiction of first/love, family, death and identity. However, it just didn’t quite hit the mark for me and was kind of anticlimactic for my tastes. I don’t regret reading it, but it’s not one I’d label as a standout romance and plot-wise. For me it’s not going to sit alongside such novels as Anna and the French Kiss or I’ll Give You The Sun. It’s miles better than That Boy or Love and Other Foreign Words. It’s right there with Let’s Get Lost .Whether or not that gives you some idea of the quality of this book, I don’t know. See for yourself. You might see it in a different light than I did.