Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy is not another teenage cancer book. Well, it kind of is, but not like you think. Our main character, Alice, is sixteen (a teenager) when she is diagnosed with cancer (cancer book), but that is just the beginning of the story. Told in alternating viewpoints, Alice and her friend Harvey, as well as alternating time lines (when she is first diagnosed and also the present), we watch Alice's swift decline into illness, but we also watch as her illness takes a turn no one expects. Alice goes into remission. Don't worry- this isn't really a spoiler, it's a plot point. When Alice is sure she is dying, she makes a list of all the things she wants to do before it's too late. When she discovers she'll live, she realizes she will also have to live with the consequences of the things on her list.
I knew how to die. It was the living that scared me.
People love to give the advice to live as if you were dying, but that's not practical or reasonable. If I knew I were going to die next week, you bet I'd drain my savings, pull everything out of the retirement accounts and max out my credit cards to go on the most amazing vacation. But what would happen if I didn't die? I would have a mountain of debt and my savings would be gone. These are just the financial consequences. Alice has a little less travel and a lot more revenge on her list. Begrudgingly helping Alice with her list is Harvey. They have been friends since they were children and he just can't say no to her, especially because he has spent the last few years in love with Alice. Alice has accepted that she will die, but when life is back on the table, the world turns upside down for her.
One interesting thing about reading this not-another-teenage-cancer-book is that Alice is not always nice. She isn't the sweet, long-suffering, always-happy cancer patient that is so often presented in fiction. Alice, like most people, has a mean, ugly side, she gets angry about her cancer and with the people around her. She is also really amazing, adding good deeds to her list along with the not-so-good. We watch as she works through the same emotions any other girl her age would feel in addition to the cancer. This book raised some interesting points that would make for good discussion. Of course, what I really want to know is what would you do if you knew your time was coming to an end and would you worry about the consequences or let the cards fall where they may?