As a fellow contemporary YA writer, I was so excited to read Julie Murphy‘s Side Effects May Vary. Guys, the buzz around this book is so warranted. A few years ago, contemporary was hard sell, and I think Side Effects May Vary is a novel that will continue to prove that contemporary YA is one of the most engaging and powerful genres out there. But if you need more specifics, here are my ten reasons why you should read Side Effects May Vary.
Alice is a wonderfully complex protagonist. She’s the kind of girl you want in your corner–bold, smart, dynamic–but she also makes some serious mistakes. I love that Alice is as fierce as she is vulnerable.
Can I just give Harvey a big hug? He’s a heartbreaking character–loyal, loving, and totally defenseless against Alice and her issues. Julie’s crafted a character who is pretty swoonworthy (because come on, we all want a little swooniness) and yet so real. Also, I loved seeing Harvey struggle with his own issues–he’s not defined by his relationship to Alice.
3. The List
As someone who has a grudge list, I love the concept of Alice using the last months of her life to get back at her enemies. And while the revenge is satisfying, it doesn’t get Alice everything she wants. But Julie also lets Alice use the list for good and joyful things. As a result, all the list-based activities feel epic and also personal.
4. Now and Then
One aspect of Side Effects May Vary that set it apart from other YA novels about death/illness is that Alice has to deal with surviving. I loved how Julie used the past/present structure to not only look at how these characters engage with each other, but also to reflect on what it means to live and love and fear loss and really put yourself out there.
5. Family Affair
I like seeing characters’ worlds completely fleshed out, including family life. Julie’s accomplished that here, making both Alice’s parents and Harvey’s mom feel like real people who take an active interest in their children’s lives. Also, bonus points for a secret Alice finds out early about her mom; Julie handles the issue with just as much care as she does any of Alice or Harvey’s secrets.
6. You’ve Got to Have Friends
Similarly, I love the social dynamics at work in Side Effects May Vary. Minor characters Debora and Dennis feel fleshed-out. (I was especially into Debora’s character development; I didn’t expect her to become such a presence.) Even Alice’s major enemy Celeste and her cohort Mindi feel like real people, not stock villains.
One of my book/movie pet peeves is that people who are supposed to be deathly ill never actually look/act sick. (I’m looking at you, Satine.) But in the Then sections, Alice’s illness increasingly affects her physically and makes things like vengeance more difficult. It’s not a romanticized version of cancer; the reader can’t forget that being that sick is truly heinous.
8. Dancing Queen
I never got to take dance classes as a kid (I know, tiny violin) so I’ve always been interested in dancer stories. I love that Alice, who’s so fierce, is a ballerina. Even for someone who doesn’t know what it’s like to get caught up in precise, elegant movements and music, the dance scenes come alive.
9. Kickass Writing
Julie’s writing is stellar. The prose is so clean and clear, and then she has these lines that just killed me with feels. (One description in particular of a kiss is the best ever. No, not going to post it here because it works too well in the moment for me to spoil it.)
10. Julie Murphy, Your New Best Friend
Julie Murphy is one of the coolest people around. She’s fierce and funny and makes you feel like you’re immediately best friends. (On one Fourteenery email thread, I had to leave my desk because Julie made me laugh too hard.) When she’s not writing, she works at an academic library; that’s right, writer/librarian combo of awesome. She also knows the best places to buy cute dresses.
Side Effects May Vary is coming out on March 18th, which means you can preorder now. Trust me, guys, you’re going to want this in your hands immediately. All the feels!