A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Side Effects May Vary is a teen romance involving a girl who's so mean that even a cancer diagnosis doesn't garner her any sympathy from the reader. Although true love and forgiveness conquer all, they wait until the last minute to do so, and most of the events serve as a catalog of what not to do. The typical teens use a lot of strong language, most frequently "f--k," "s--t," and "ass." They also sneak beer and smoke what they think is marijuana but turns out to be tobacco. Kissing and making out above the waist occur frequently but without descriptive detail.
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What's the story?
Alice and Harvey, high school juniors, have been in love forever, which scares Alice, who tries her best to push Harvey away. After she's diagnosed with cancer, she continues to push him and everyone else away, even while she uses him to complete her "bucket list." Harvey's patience wears thin, and when Alice miraculously goes into remission, it might be too late to salvage the one relationship she needs the most.
Is it any good?
In SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY, first-time author Julie Murphy presents a complicated, sophisticated teen romance between high-school juniors Alice and Harvey. Teens will find the characters believable and enjoy following their relationship as it matures along with Alice and Harvey themselves. Each character's inability to choose the better path, even though they all fully recognize their own weaknesses, can sometimes be frustrating. It keeps Alice, in particular, from being truly relatable, as she consistently hurts those around her.
Harvey and Alice take turns narrating the story, which gives a refreshing and balanced perspective to events. But they also go back and forth in time somewhat unevenly. Even though the chapters are labeled "Then" and "Now" at the beginning, it's sometimes hard to follow or to reconstruct the time line of events. The writing's solid and mercifully devoid of schlock but lacks any kind of unique spark to elevate the novel above a genre piece.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why romances are so popular. Do you think they help us learn about relationships, or do they create unrealistic expectations?
Do you know anyone who's had chemotherapy? Was it different for them than it was for Alice? How realistic is the story in showing Alice's experience?
Alice plots to publicly humiliate a bully as revenge. What other, better strategies are there for dealing with bullies?
- Author: Julie Murphy
- Genre: Romance
- Topics: Friendship, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Balzer + Bray
- Publication date: March 18, 2014
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 336
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: July 13, 2017
Our editors recommend
For kids who love stories about high-school and teen romance
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.