Book Review: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Side Effects May Vary

Title: Side Effects May Vary
Author: Julie Murphy
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Realistic Fiction, Cancer, Young Adult
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: 26th March 2014
Pages: 335
Rating: 4.5 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
Written from the perspectives of both Harvey and Alice, in Side Effects May Vary, Julie Murphy weaves a compelling story of friendship, relationships and love, with a little bit of death thrown in for good measure; at least for a while.

When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs. So she convinces her best friend Harvey, who’s loved her forever, to help with compiling a crazy just-dying-to-do bucket list, that’s as much about revenge as it is about redemption. But just when Alice’s scores are settled, she goes into remission. Now she must face the consequences of all she’s said and done and discover just what happens when we say our ‘final’ words, only to find that life isn’t through with us yet.

Sharp, witty and poignant – this is a book written for all ages.

My Review:

Alice has been battling leukaemia for over a year but she’s getting weaker all the time. She’s sure that her time is coming to an end and as a result enlists her oldest friend, Harvey, to help her complete her unfinished business.  But this is a bucket list with a difference. Alice wants to get revenge on those who have wronged her before it’s too late. Harvey knows that what Alice is doing is wrong but he’s loved her since before he knew what love was and can deny her nothing. When Alice gets the news that she is in remission it should be a happy time but now she has to deal with the fall out of her actions.

I loved reading this debut novel by Julie Murphy. I started reading it thinking that I’d read a few chapters before bed and before I knew it – I was finished the book and only a few hours until I was supposed to wake up.

Alice isn’t like a lot of characters I’ve read before. She’s angry and mean but I felt like she was a very honest character. Life has wronged her and she wants to get her own back. She’s bitter what life has thrown at her. Having cancer hasn’t changed her – she hasn’t all of a sudden become a better person. I loved reading about her. There were times when I wanted to shout at her (What are you doing Alice?!) but as much as her actions didn’t always make sense to me – it made sense for her. They felt authentic for the girl I had gotten to know over the course of this novel.

Harvey is Alice’s partner in crime as she completes her revenge list. He was a character I wasn’t a fan of for a huge part of the novel. He’s a bit of a doormat and whilst that is good for Alice’s plan – I wanted him to stand up for himself. For him to be worthy of loving and to stand up and be someone Alice couldn’t walk over and ignore. That said, he did grow and change over the course of the book and by the end he started to be a character I enjoyed reading.

This is a book about life. About being hurt and surviving. Alice has a lot going on in her life. There is parents drama, the fickleness of friendship, relationship problems and her medical crisis. And whilst I don’t approve of how she dealt with it all – she did manage to cope and come though it all. Her actions all had consequences and no matter what she had been though – she didn’t get an easy out. I admire how Julie Murphy handled the situations she put her characters though and loved this different view of a teenage cancer story.

Side Effects May Vary was one of my most anticipated reads of this year and it did not disappoint. It’s not just a romance but a touching and compelling story about a girl coming to grips with what life throws at her – and the consequences of getting even.

Thanks to Penguin Australia and NetGalley for the review copy. 

Purchase the novel from:

Amazon | Booktopia | Book Depository | BookWorld

Book Review: Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts

Zac and Mia

Title: Zac & Mia
Author: A.J. Betts
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Contemporary, Cancer, Romance
Publisher: Text Publishing
Publication Date: July 2013
Pages: 272
Rating: 4.5 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
The last person Zac expects in the room next door is a girl like Mia, angry and feisty with questionable taste in music. In the real world, he wouldn’t—couldn’t—be friends with her. In hospital different rules apply, and what begins as a knock on the wall leads to a note—then a friendship neither of them sees coming.

You need courage to be in hospital; different courage to be back in the real world. In one of these worlds Zac needs Mia. And in the other Mia needs Zac. Or maybe they both need each other, always.

My Review:

Zac and Mia is a book told by the perspectives of two very different teenagers. Zac is a seventeen year old active farm boy suffering myeloid leukaemia and now stuck in confinement after a bone marrow transplant. With only his supportive (yet at times a little overbearing) mother, nurses and the Internet for company, Zac is intrigued by the new admission to the hospital room next to his. Mia isn’t quite as okay with her diagnosis as Zac. She’s angry and in denial. Her prognosis is the best of anyone in the ward but all she can see how the cancer in her leg is taking her former life away from her.

I liked how Betts broke up this book – the first part is entirely told from Zac’s point of view, the last solely Mia, and the middle section alternating perspectives per chapter. The way it was told kept me rather anxiously reading on to make sure the characters were okay. Zac is someone I instantly enjoyed reading about. He’s smart and funny – his bone marrow’s alter ego, Helga! – but also incredibly logical. His fixation with maths and statistics showed that he knew his odds but was trying to be the one who beat them. Mia was harder to like – she’s pricky and snarky but from reading her side of things you can see that it’s just a cover for how scared she is. The relationship between them was a joy to read. They are unlikely friends but their shared experiences give them a bond that few can possibly understand. I love the interactions between them – from Mia obnoxiously blasting Lady Gaga to Zac’s knowledge of the ridiculous ways people have died. This book despite the serious nature of cancer did leave me grinning at times.

Their personal situations as well as their medical conditions contrasted nicely – Zac with the super supportive friends and family who all knew the ins and outs of what he was facing opposed to Mia who didn’t even let her friends know. Zac considered Mia to be the luckiest person on the ward but she was the one acting as if she was the only person facing a death sentence. Zac has the family who are all there for each other and there maybe teasing on the farm but when it comes down to it they would do anything for one another. Mia isn’t quite so lucky as her mother was a teenager when she had her and neither one seems to know how they should treat the other. These differences contrasted nicely and really showed off how differently people behave when facing a similar beast.

I’ve seen people compare Zac and Mia to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars – with both books dealing with teens and cancer but for me they both told very different stories. Zac and Mia showed off the darker side – with everything from hair loss to bowel movements being discussed. I liked that Betts showed the ugly side of things as it made it all a little more realistic for me. It felt well researched from both a medical standpoint as well as the personal side of cancer.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It’s thoughtful and heartbreaking yet sincere and at times amusing. I highly recommend it.

 

Thanks to Text Publishing for the review copy.

Purchase the novel from:

Amazon | Booktopia | Book Depository | BookWorld

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Author: John Green
Genre: contemporary romance; realistic fiction;
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: 11 January 2012
Pages: 336 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 13, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs… for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

My Review:

Coming into reading this book – not knowing anything about it – and finding out on the very first page that the main character had terminal cancer, I knew that it wasn’t going to be the kind of book filled with sunshine and rainbows. And it wasn’t. But it was the kind full of heartbreak and hope, a few tears here and there as well as a hearty dose of laughter.

The Fault in Our Stars is the story of Hazel – a teenager who has been fighting a never-ending battle against her own body. Given up on a real life, Hazel drifts between class, watching reality tv with her parents and (at her mother’s request) going to a cancer kid support group once a week. It’s there that Augustus Waters enters her life. In Augustus, Hazel finds a kindred spirit. Someone she can be herself with, someone who knows what she’s been through.

I loved these two together – they’re both quirky and a little pretentious. And whilst pretentious isn’t usually a trait that endears me to characters, I loved how these two interacted with each other. They’ve been through so much at such a young age with both of them never expecting a future. They’ve become somewhat old for their age. And where their bodies are falling apart around them, their minds are free to grow and give them a somewhat unique wisdom. They are both intuitive and poignant with a sense of humour that stayed with them both no matter what.

The relationships in this book were another part that shone for me – Hazel with her parents, Hazel + Augustus and Peter and Hazel + Augustus and Isaac – I loved them all for different reasons. It was beautiful to read a story of someone with a terminal disease who didn’t spend their entire time being bitter. I loved Hazel’s camaraderie with her family and the gallows humour she and Augustus invoked at Isaac regarding his sight (or lack thereof).

The only thing stopping me from giving this book a perfect score is that I found it somewhat predictable. There were surprising turns of events but overall I found things going along just as I was expecting. That said, it never stopped the story from being one that I couldn’t put down.

I can understand why after over a year since this book was first released, it remains in the number one on the best seller list for YA literature in Australia. It’s a beautifully written book with characters that both broke my heart and broke my face into a giant smile every so often. I’ve not read a John Green book before but after reading A Fault in Our Stars I can’t wait to check out some of his older works.

Thanks to NetGalley for the digital review copy.

Purchase the novel from:

Amazon / Book Depository 

Read for the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge