Side Effects May Vary: Review

March 6, 2014 1.5 star books, 2014, contemporary, Kim 83 ★½

Side Effects May Vary: ReviewSide Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy
Published by Balzer & Bray on March 18, 2014
Genres: contemporary
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
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one-half-stars
What if you’d been living your life as if you were dying—only to find out that you had your whole future ahead of you?

When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis is grim. To maximize the time she does have, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs—however she sees fit. She convinces her friend Harvey, whom she knows has always had feelings for her, to help her with a crazy bucket list that’s as much about revenge (humiliating her ex-boyfriend and getting back at her arch nemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger and reliving some childhood memories). But just when Alice’s scores are settled, she goes into remission.

Now Alice is forced to face the consequences of all that she’s said and done, as well as her true feelings for Harvey. But has she done irreparable damage to the people around her, and to the one person who matters most?

Julie Murphy’s SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY is a fearless and moving tour de force about love, life, and facing your own mortality.

I’ll be straight with you. Contemporary is not my favorite genre. With that said, if I am going to read a contemporary novel it means I think there is a strong chance that I will really like it. Side Effects May Vary left me confused, disturbed, irritated, depressed, and angry in turns. I was so bewildered by this story that I am convinced that I simply must have missed the entire point of it. There just has to be something I’m not understanding here. Why would I want to read a book about terrible people, who are terrible to each other, and who exhibit extremely minimal amounts of personal growth throughout? Truly, I do not understand.

Perhaps this is my fault. I thought the sort of repercussions Alice would be dealing with would be things like telling someone you love them because time has run out only to discover that it hasn’t. Now the consequences of those words must be faced. What do you do when you could love someone while dying but are completely unsure of how to live with it? That would be an interesting story. And it is addressed here, a little. Unfortunately, it is far overshadowed by the maliciousness of Alice’s other deeds. I was chilled by how unexpectedly grim this story is.  I was chilled by how unexpectedly grim this story is.

Upon reflection, though, I might be off the hook. That synopsis is not being entirely truthful. I have fixed it below to more accurately reflect the reality of the book:

When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis is grim. To maximize the time she does have, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs—however she sees fit (by plotting ludicrous and petty revenge schemes). She convinces (purposely and decisively manipulates) her friend Harvey, whom she knows has always had feelings for her (she sure does know. she manipulates him sexually as well), to help her with a crazy bucket list that’s as much about revenge (humiliating her ex-boyfriend and getting back at her arch nemesis) (nope it’s entirely about revenge) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger and reliving some childhood memories) (she haltingly does something nice once).

That’s more like it.

The story is told in both Alice’s and Harvey’s POV while switching back and forth between “Now” (the remission period) and “Then” (the cancer period). Non-linear narratives don’t necessarily bother me but this one did. If you are not a fan of non-linear novels I would advise you to be wary of this one. I couldn’t understand what the point of making this non-linear was. There is no difference between Alice’s behavior “now” and her behavior “then.” It is not as if we see anything in the Then to explain Alice’s behavior either Then or Now. It’s just all around loathsome. There’s no differentiating between the Alices which only adds to the narrative confusion.

Let’s get to Alice. Alice is a real piece of work. Now, I love complex, unlikeable characters; especially when they’re female. Girls face overwhelming societal expectations to be nice, sweet, and smiling at all times. I really love it when characters are unashamedly flawed and human. Alice is on a whole other level. Petty, mean, and spiteful just for the sake of it. She vows to spend the remaining months of her life taking revenge on others while sexually manipulating the one boy who loves her despite her many misgivings. Certainly, she is under no obligation to love him back just because he loves her. But, all humans have a basic responsibility to be decent. Alice fails. I have never come across a protagonist as selfish, cold hearted, and unrepentant as Alice. She exploits Harvey and enjoys the way it makes her feel. If she makes him, or anyone else, upset she does not care. I don’t prefer to rely on quotes to illustrate my points, but I feel that it is necessary here to see how nasty she really is.

Here she is manipulating Harvey into helping her with her bucket list. He, understandably, has reservations because her plans are so awful. I especially hate how she alludes to something physical happening between them that she has absolutely no intention of pursuing.

“Harvey, if I…if I die and you don’t help me with this, you will always regret it. Doing these things with you, that’s part of my list in a way.” “Maybe there are some things that you want to do with me that are on your list, ya know?”

When Alice senses Harvey might be starting to break free of her hold she knows exactly what to do to reel him right back in:

“I leaned across the center console and gave him a kiss on the cheek. That was exactly what I needed to keep Harvey in reach.”

That is classic emotionally abusive behavior. I am honestly disturbed that this character is presented as someone with whom I am supposed to sympathize. Alice’s manipulations stirred up dark and painful memories for me, as I imagine they would for anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of such. I can’t fathom why readers would be asked to grant Alice even some understanding. Okay, she has cancer but, as I said above, there is no difference between pre-, during, and post-cancer Alice’s behavior and machinations. There have been no lessons learned from experience. There is no growth to her character. Why am I supposed to forgive such despicable behavior?

Alice’s bucket list consists of carrying out a series of ridiculous revenge plots against her Dumb Jock ex-boyfriend and the Mean Girl stereotype with whom he was cheating on Alice. I won’t spoil anything but I will tell you that the punishments do not fit the crimes. The acid glee with which Alice engages in her seriously harmful plans is unnerving. Most of all, the revenge plot doesn’t work because both the Dumb Jock and the Mean Girl are on equal footings of awful with Alice. They’re all just contemptible people being contemptible to each other. How can there be a “winner” there?

Now, it may be true that Harvey is steadfast, loyal, and dedicated to Alice, but I couldn’t garner too much sympathy for him. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why Harvey loved Alice. Yes, they were childhood friends and he knew her when she was somewhat less awful. He gives us a flashback scene where he falls in love with her, at 13, watching her in ballet class. He tells us that he thinks she’s perfect but he doesn’t tell us why. Instead he says things like this:

“On that cold night in January it all slipped into place for me and she became my everything and my everyone. My music, my sun, my words, my hope, my logic, my confusion, my flaw.”

Nevermind how cliche I find that passage, why is she all of those things to Harvey? We’re never given an answer.

I do feel bad for Harvey that he’s been so manipulated by this girl. Yet I couldn’t stop being frustrated with him. He knows and admits that she is selfish and manipulative but then still goes along with it anyway. He knows very well how poorly she treats others too. Is it supposed to be a mark of his love for her that he puts up with it all?  No, no, no. Love yourself more. You cannot love an abusive person into not being abusive. I am happy to say that the book does eventually steer away from that messaging and Harvey, at least, does show some growth.

But then there are interactions like this one (and keep in mind this is very close to the end of the book). After Alice has brought a boy back to her room and Harvey witnesses the guy leave:

“He didn’t know how much to leave for you. I told him first one’s on the house. Isn’t that right, Al?”

Well, that’s just charming. They are not in a relationship at the time. The only person who should get to have a say in Alice’s sexual life is Alice. Do you see what I mean about how this book is about terrible people being terrible to each other? I am just flummoxed. What is the point?

I won’t tell you that there is absolutely no growth of character in the end for the both of them. But it comes way late and way suddenly. The forward momentum of the plot is spent building up this dysfunctional dynamic only to pull the brakes at the very, very end. It felt untrue to the story. It was unsatisfying.

For the most part the writing is fine apart from a few cliched passages like Harvey’s above. My biggest complaint is the lack of depth. Again, Harvey’s quoted passage is a great example. We’re told that Harvey loves Alice but not shown any reason. Alices tells us, “I knew how to die. It was living that scared me.”  Again, aside from that being one of the most cliched lines you can find in this type of story, why? Way too much time is put into Alice’s various revenge schemes, and her bitter joy in them, than is put into any understanding of her character. And that’s just a shame.

I will give the author one huge prop for being a master of mood. I came across this interview with her after I finished the book and it definitely clicked some things into place in mind. Specifically, where she stated that she wrote the book to “the soundtrack” of Blue Valentine. Ah, now I get it. The tone and mood are very similar. This is a grim portrayal of a dysfunctional relationship that was not particularly enjoyable to experience. She pulled me into a dark, dark headspace and, since that was the goal, I applaud her for it.

What am I looking for in a reading experience? Why did I dislike this so much? I want my heart to be tugged and pulled. I want to be left moved. I want to be enriched. Whether my heart is broken or soaring, I want it to have meaning. What was the meaning of this? If the main character has no heart what is going to carry the book? I do not enjoy being drawn down into darkness. This story was so disturbing in its portrayal of dysfunction that I cannot wait to put it behind me.

 

divider vine cropped

 

I will say that my rating is very much an emotional reaction. I really didn’t enjoy the way this book made me feel. I think this is super personal and that mileage will very much depend upon the reader. I certainly am not automatically discounting any future works by the author. I might even be keen to see what she comes up with next. There is a lot of promise here with the right kind of story. I’ll leave you with some other opinions that might better help you decide whether or not this is for you. Giselle at Xpresso Reads has a more balanced review than mine and Jen at The Starry-Eyed Revue has a glowing one.

An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review. All quotes from an uncorrected proof and may be subject to change in the final copy.

 

kim teal

83 Responses to “Side Effects May Vary: Review”

  1. starryeyedjen

    I think this is just one of those really polarizing books that you’re either really going to love or really going to hate. I don’t know if I’ve seen any middling reviews for SEMV. I loved this novel, and mostly for all the reasons that you loathed it, lol. Which makes me think that I might actually like Gone Girl, though I had no intention of picking it up prior to this. Regardless of not liking the story, I appreciate your honest opinion and all your examples of why this book just didn’t work for you.
    starryeyedjen recently posted…We Co-sign on Co-blogging

  2. Lauren @ Love is not a triangle

    WHOA this review gave me chills – not the good kind. I feel like I truly dodged a bullet staying away from this one. I’ve also become very very picky about what contemporary books I pick up, and I’ve gotten so tired of the “bucket list” plot. I agree that unlikable characters can be so interesting, but this girl is not someone I could get behind. I actually read another review of this book where the person said that this is one of the few stories where she did NOT want the two characters to get together. That turned me off as well! My emotional reaction to a book always stands the strongest, so I completely understand your rating. Hope you were able to enjoy something FUN after this one.
    Lauren @ Love is not a triangle recently posted…An Empty Mind is a Safe Mind Blog Tour + Giveaway Fact or Fiction in the Russia of Sekret

  3. Mel@thedailyprophecy

    I had exactly the same feelings and problems with this book. I’m also not a huge contemporary reader, so I pick my books careful and I thought this one had potential. But my oh my, I couldn’t understand Alice and Harvey. She was just a bitch and he was a spineless loser, if I need to summarize this book in one sentence. It’s good to hear I wasn’t the only one who disliked Alice so much.
    Mel@thedailyprophecy recently posted…Fairytale News 32. Concept posts.

  4. Danielle Binks

    I’m reading this now and struggling a bit – I wish someone had told me about the non-linear before I started, because I kept flipping back and forth in pages to double-check that I was orientated and knew what was going on.

    I agree about the maliciousness, and that’s not what I thought it was going to be either. Far be it from me to think that dying teenagers have to be glorified as pillars of strength and bravery in their final days (John Green’s ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ showed that wasn’t necessary, or very true) they’re allowed to be pissed at life and the hand fate dealt them, but I am waiting for the ‘hope’ the blurb promises and to actually start liking the protagonist.

    Great review of a tough book ;)
    Danielle Binks recently posted…‘Werewolf Sings the Blues’ A Midnight Magic Mystery #2 by Jennifer Harlow

    • Kim

      Yeah, I thought it’d be a good idea to highlight that this is non-linear in my review. I know a lot of people have strong opinions about that.

      I don’t need dying (or non-dying) teenagers to be perfect angels. I mean, life is so much more stressful when you’re ill. It can be that much harder to put on a happy front. My main problem is that Alice’s manipulations continue and even get worse when she is in remission. Why? I just don’t get it. *sigh* I hope you end up enjoying it a lot more than I did.
      Kim recently posted…The Impossible Knife of Memory: review

  5. Kate @ Ex Libris

    I really liked this book because Alice was so awful. (of course, now I feel like a sociopath for saying that :O ) Without discounting your feelings about this book, because everyone’s feelings about a story are absolutely legitimate, I wondered if I liked this story because it *didn’t* turn the cancer patient into a person who had some great epiphany. I also wonder if working in HR has made me jaded, because I don’t think that illness changes everyone, but I do think a lot of “YA Cancer Books” present this transformation because we so desperately need a reason for the crappy things that happen to people. (Kate’s point in the comments above about people needing books with hopeful endings was well made.) I realize that the lack of growth wasn’t the crux of your issues with SEMV, but it’s something I’ve wondered about as I see such strong reactions to the book. I could be totally off base, though….
    Kate @ Ex Libris recently posted…Manor Of Secrets By Katherine Longshore

    • Kim

      Ha. No, no, I get what you mean.

      Honestly, the whole cancer part sort of faded into the back of my mind as I was reading because I was so appalled by the characters. I just have a very strong personal reaction to the levels and depths of manipulations like Alice’s. Plain and simple, it isn’t something I am going to enjoy reading about it. I’m just not interested in reading about a character who is so inconsiderate and purposely hurtful.

      I don’t think you’re jaded at all. I think it’s just true that illness isn’t going to change everyone into magically better people. Ill people are just people still with all of their regular trappings. There’s no requirement for this magical transformation. There’s no requirement that they will be nice or spend their time on positive efforts. But, I think there’s a difference between being appreciative of a cancer story that doesn’t go down the overused epiphany trope and a cancer story where the main character is destructive, selfish, and manipulative. I totally get your appreciation for not taking the epiphany trope but, like I said, I have a strongly personal reaction to *that* particular type of awfulness.

      I totally understand liking awful characters. I mean, I like Cersei Lannister. Well…maybe “like” is too strong a word. I appreciate her character and I enjoy reading from her POV in the books. She is very intriguing and there are some genuinely sympathetic reasons behind some of her actions. Yet she is a *terrible* person inside and out. There aren’t a lot of good reasons to like her character but I do anyway. It’s just the specific ways in which Alice is terrible that I can’t stand. Like I’ve said, it’s super personal.

      I don’t know. I feel like if Alice had been a more nuanced character, wavering between wanting to be good but failing because she’s only human, this would have been much more enjoyable to me. There needn’t be an epiphany, she wouldn’t have to become a saint. But I want to see some sort of effort at being a decent human being. Or, at the very least, give a reason why I should sympathize with Alice’s behavior after she’s gone into remission. *Why* should I understand/forgive her selfishness and her harmful behaviors? I never got a satisfactory answer from the text.
      Kim recently posted…The Impossible Knife of Memory: review

  6. K.

    Ew, Alice sounds disgusting. I know your review reflects a negative reaction to the book, but somehow I’m now more inclined to read it. I don’t understand how the author could’ve given this character this kind of mentality at the end of her life…shouldn’t dying put things into perspective? Those quotes of Alice manipulating Harvey are just absolutely revolting. Two lines and I already have a full picture of what kind of character Alice is. I’d swear at this point if I could but I like to be polite.

    Great review, Kim.!

    • Kim

      She was honestly the worst. I was well and truly appalled by her behavior. You would think dying would put things into perspective but apparently not. The whole story baffles me. And those two lines are Alice to a t. It’s just 330 pages of her being like that. I am *definitely* interested in what you’ll think if you end up reading it. If anyone can help me understand what the point of is story was I would be grateful!
      Kim recently posted…The Impossible Knife of Memory: review

  7. Bonnie @ For the Love of Words

    You know contemporary is not my favorite genre either but when I read the summary for this one I was extremely excited at the potential that summary left me feeling. I don’t usually let reviews completely convince me not to read something because I like formulating my own opinion but I have heard any things, all included in your review, that have left me convinced that I would have the same emotional response. So sorry you didn’t care for this one but thank you for the informative review!
    Bonnie @ For the Love of Words recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday – The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

    • Kim

      I was excited too! Which is a feat for me and contemporary, trust me. I wrote this review, honestly, for the people who would have the same emotional response as I did. I wanted to reach out to those kindred spirits and let them know it would drag them down into the dark place. Nopenopenope. Not a place I want to be! But I am glad I can be informative and helpful. :)
      Kim recently posted…The Impossible Knife of Memory: review

  8. Vivien

    Oh man, I’m glad I’m not the only one. Initially when I read it, I rated this higher. I have since lowered it because every time I think about this book, I get angry. I really just didn’t like this, at all. I just kept asking myself, why? Why all the sex? I absolutely hated the relationship between Harvey and Alice. It was so dysfunctional and very uncomfortable to read. This book epitomizes what I loathe about cancer books. The manipulation by the characters and the author just really left a sour taste in my mouth.

    Random side note about Gone Girl. I had read the authors previous works prior to reading GG, so I knew her writing style. It’s very very dark. So I knew what to expect with GG. And to be honest, I was glad that the author chose to go in that direction with GG. For me, it was expected, and I got the enjoyment out of the horrible characters (I know, I know. It was like a train wreck for me, couldn’t look away). But for this book, it felt so out of left field. It didn’t suit the story imo. Yes, teenagers can and are terrible little sh*ts, but it just felt like an angle the author used in SEMV. And I really don’t like it when the characters don’t feel genuine.

    But I’m usually the black sheep with books anyways. I’m used to it :)

    Great review. You really verbalized everything that I didn’t like. I have a hard time focusing in on the nuances that bother me in books. Very refreshing to have someone write the thoughts I have.

    • Kim

      Ha, I am glad I can be here for you! Honestly, on merit this isn’t really a terrible book. But, like you, I just had a viscerally angry reaction to it. Sex is fine when it’s not manipulated and very much NOT fine when it is. I just hadn’t the dark and dysfunctional feel of this book. I really had no idea it was doing to be as grim as it is. It’s a different thing, like you’ve said with Gone Girl, where you know going into it that the story will be very dark. If I’d known I would’ve stayed away. Hence this warning/review. I think you’re right. These characters exist within very narrowly defined parameters of awfulness just for the sake of the dysfunctional story. They have no story themselves and the behavior ends up just seeming like a cheap angle.
      Kim recently posted…The Impossible Knife of Memory: review

  9. Amy

    I’m still very curious about reading this to see if my pov is different . I love contemporary fiction and the fact that the synopsis is about checking off your bucket list and living like your literally dying.

  10. Jen

    I’m a big contemp fan, but I’m also a big fan of love and happy endings. After reading your review (and the others you linked too) I’m not sure this is the right book for me. Thanks so much for the honest review though, may save me $20 ;)
    Jen recently posted…Review: Bright Before Sunrise

    • Kim

      Yeah, if I’m reading contemp I generally prefer it to be light and fluffy contemp and this is definitely not that. The cover is super cutesy which, I think, is a bit deceptive. But anyone who reads the summary (besides me apparently!) should be able to figure out it’s not as cute as it might first appear to be. I feel bad ever discouraging someone away from a book, but I’m glad that I can help you save a few bucks if you’re fairly certain you’ll end up feeling just like I did!
      Kim recently posted…Rebel Belle: hummingbird cake recipe + giveaway

  11. kimbacaffeinate

    Wow, most people faced with dying, make peace, forgive and try to leave those around them in a better place. You would have thought Harvey and the others gave her leukemia by what you described. Great review Kim, I will be avoiding this episode of mean girls.
    kimbacaffeinate recently posted…Cider Brook by Carla Neggers

    • Kim

      Most people do indeed do just that. It’s just so strange because besides getting cancer, (which is terrible don’t get me wrong) nothing truly terrible has ever happened to Alice. So it doesn’t make a lot sense that she spends her remaining time plotting revenge and manipulating a totally decent person into assisting her. No sense! I’m just one of those people who can’t get past her nastiness.
      Kim recently posted…Rebel Belle: hummingbird cake recipe + giveaway

  12. fishgirl182

    Thanks for the honest review. I am not a huge contemp reader either. Most of the reviews I have read for this are pretty positive so it’s interesting to see another side of it. It does sound kind of weird that this character’s bucket list includes all kinds of revenge. I guess I am just not that person but I would not want to spend my last days getting revenge on anyone. I still plan on reading this at some point but will probably get it from the library.
    fishgirl182 recently posted…Manicure Monday (54): The Wig In The Window

    • Kim

      Ha I felt pretty bad writing this so I’m weirdly kind of glad you’ve seen mostly positive reviews. I think most people won’t have as visceral a reaction to Alice as I did but I wanted to at least warn those who might. And it is weird to have revenge on a bucket list. I mean, I can think of situations where I would actually approve of enacting revenge as part of a bucket list. But nothing on that level happens or has ever happened to Alice. She’s just bitter and angry so she lashes out. No thanks. I still hope you’ll enjoy reading it much more than I did once you get to it!
      Kim recently posted…Rebel Belle: hummingbird cake recipe + giveaway

  13. Pili

    Well, great review Kim! It’s a perfectly honest review of how the book made you feel and why you didn’t like it. I have been in the fence with this one for many various reasons (I don’t like reading cancer related books since I’m an oncology nurse and I prefer to leave work related stuff back at work as much as I can) but this one seemed a book that would be interesting enough to be read. I’m even a little less sure now, cause I don’t know if I want to go into a story so dark and dysfuntional…
    Pili recently posted…Mark This Book Monday: ARC Review of Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule!!

  14. Larissa

    Wow, this book doesn’t look like it’s for me. I don’t have much luck with sickness books to begin with and this one definitely doesn’t like it’ll be changing my luck. Alice seems to take selfish to an whole new level. She manipulates innocent people for goodness sakes. I think reading from Alice’s narration would be the most aggravating thing ever. I mean the quotes from her narration were enough to turn me off.

    Great review! I think you expressed your feelings to this book wonderfully and it was very interesting.
    Larissa recently posted…DNF Review: The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

    • Kim

      Why thank you, Larissa. You know, I feel bad to ever actually discourage someone away from reading a book, but this one just made me feel so awful inside I felt like it was only fair to warn people who might have a similar reaction to mine. I can’t stand manipulative characters, and especially not when we’re given very little reason to relate to that character. Even Alice’s cancer can’t counteract how awful she is. It’s pretty bad/sad.
      Kim recently posted…Rebel Belle: hummingbird cake recipe + giveaway

  15. A Canadian Girl

    I’ve just started reading this one, Kim, and your review has left me a bit worried. I’ve just got to the part where Harvey explains when he fell in love with Alice and had the same reaction as you. But, hopefully I’ll like this one a bit better than you.
    A Canadian Girl recently posted…Lucky is Reading Giveaway Hop

  16. Faye @ The Social Potato

    This is a really good and thorough review, Kim! My co-blogger reviewed this not too long ago and pretty much said the same things as you. Alice was one of the most selfish characters she has ever come across, and even I am left contemplating why we’re supposed to feel for this character and I haven’t even read it yet (although thinking about it now, I don’t think I will). I hate it when MCs don’t grow at all. Like you, I am for flawed people not because of their lacking desirable traits but because of the character development that we expect will unfold, and I just HATE it when there’s none of that at all, especially for a character like in this one.

    Harvey sounds like such a doormat :( I would be asking myself why he even likes her even when she does all those things. If he really did love her, he’d see all the bad things she’s done and try to let her see what she has become, because what she’s doing is most hurtful to herself.

    Looks like I’m REALLY not picking up this book after all :X

    Great review, Kim :)
    Faye @ The Social Potato recently posted…ARC Review: Wicked Little Secrets by Kara Taylor – Wickedly Awesome

    • Kim

      Thank you, Faye! Alice really stunned me with how terrible she is. I think you’re supposed to feel bad for her because she is ill but I think this doesn’t work because 1) it’s hard to connect with a character who makes choices that most readers would never make in a million years and 2) we already know that she survives her cancer.

      I don’t even need flawed characters to “fix” their flaws for me to like them. As long as they’re generally decent people who are *trying* to do the right thing they can remain selfish or whatever the shortcoming may be. The shortcomings just can’t outweigh the positives. Alice has *no* positives. None. It would’ve been great if she’d acquired at least one positive trait by the end of the book but nope!

      Harvey absolutely knows and acknowledges that Alice uses him but he “loves” her or whatever. I was asking myself why he even liked her the entire time I was reading and I *never got an answer* which just makes it harder to understand Harvey and why he puts up with it all. It’s such a shame. I think this could’ve been an interesting book if Alice had been less terrible and both characters were fleshed out more as people rather than just props in a dysfunctional relationship dynamic.

    • Kim

      Ohhh really? I haven’t seen too many reviews on this one either positive or negative. That’s interesting you’re seeing a lot of negative reviews. I think it just really, really comes down to how much you can tolerate Alice, or perhaps even empathize with her. I completely lacked the ability to do so. Still, I truly hope you’ll have a much better time with it than I did!

    • Kim

      I really wasn’t expecting it either. Honestly, I was completely taken aback by it. The revenge schemes are so nasty and it’s even worse that she’s manipulating her best friend into helping her. It’s just terrible. Best of luck with it! I hope you end up enjoying it far more than I did.

  17. Marianne @ Boricuan Bookworms

    Alice sounds completely horrible. I would never want to be treated that way, so why would I treat people horribly? It sounds like Alice is just all kinds of emotionally immature. Harvey sounds good in theory, but I’m pretty sure just as flawed as Alice. I don’t know if I could ever bring myself to read this story. It’s sitting at the bottom of my Kindle to-read pile and I intend to keep it there for a while… Great review! I’ve seen lots of good ones, so it’s great to see some balance as well.
    Marianne @ Boricuan Bookworms recently posted…Grimm Fairy Tales: Realm Knights (Grimm Fairy Tales Presents…) by Patrick Shand

    • Kim

      She is really, really horrible. It sounds like you’re about as mind boggled as I am as to why anyone would *ever* behave like she does. Harvey is a better person but it’s frustrating to watch him repeatedly let her manipulate him. We know it’s because he “loves” her but we’re never given any reason *why* he loves her other than he thinks she looks beautiful when she dances and they grew up together. I mean, it’s a worth a shot to see how much of Alice you can handle. If you don’t like it in the beginning, though, it’s not going to get better. So sad.

  18. Jessica @ Rabid Reads

    This sounds perfectly wretched. I mean, all of us, at least once in our lives, is asked some version of, “If you only had x amount of time to live, how would you spend the time you have left?” It’s a rather trite question, usually meant to encourage teenagers to philosophize, but the underlying principle is a good one (I think). It’s also a question that no one can truly know the answer to (unless they find out they have x amount of time to live), but I HOPE the answer is not this girl’s bucket-list-o-pain-and-suffering. And if it is, it’s certainly not something to celebrate. I had a “friend” growing up who reminds me of Alice, so I completely understand an emotional reaction to this book. I’m having an emotional reaction to the review of the book. A worldview like Alice’s makes me feel sick to my stomach as well as confused b/c it is as incomprehensible as it is revolting. Thank you for the honest review.
    Jessica @ Rabid Reads recently posted…Review: Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews

    • Kim

      Right? Unlike Alice, I have had actual evil committed against me. I prefer to live my life as if those people do not exist. If I found out I was dying I certainly would continue to do so and not give even one bit of attention to them, let alone plot out ludicrous revenge schemes. I just really can’t understand the mentality of wanting to spend the remaining moments of your life on negativity and causing pain. I’d be trying to get in as much good stuff as I possibly could. I felt *so* gross just from being inside Alice’s head for several days. Ugh. Truly incomprehensible.

  19. Kate Bond

    Oh, Kim. Kim, Kim, Kim. This reads like the conversations I have with everyone I freaking know about GONE GIRL. I genuinely hated that book because everyone was awful. I couldn’t get through the first five chapters while reading, so I switched to audio, and while that was better because I was always driving somewhere while listening to it and so wasn’t as invested, I still never finished it.

    I need someone to root for. I do. My experience of life–and I’ve been through some crazy shit–is that most people are basically good, or are at least TRYING to be. I mean, I think teenagers are the worst people in the world (only because you’re the most awful you’ll ever be while strung out on those insane hormones, and your brain isn’t fully formed until you reach your mid-twenties…and because teenagers are frequently fear-driven, and fear makes people behave in scary ways, and also because they can congregate in groups, and mobs of people are really stupid), but even then, The extraordinary kindness I was shown by other teenagers when I was in high school is kind of staggering.

    That said, Kim, freaking everybody else in the world loved GONE GIRL, and you’ll probably be in the minority here, too. Stay strong, sister.

    Also: Entertainment about people being awful is such a luxury of the well-off. Poor people, who have seriously terrifying day-to-day problems, don’t read GONE GIRL or watch MAD MEN. They consume entertainment that is hopeful, because they have to believe in the essential goodness of Man, because otherwise what’s the point?

    The author really is cute on Twitter, though.

    • Alison

      I kept thinking of Gone Girl while reading this review, too. You’re not alone in hating that book.

      • Kate Bond

        I hate to say this, because I want people to read and be fans of things, but it warms my heart a little every time someone agrees with me about this book.

    • Kim

      You know, I never felt even a little bit drawn to read Gone Girl. And now I just feel confirmed in that choice so thank you. Now I’m certain I would hate it. I didn’t even know that all of the characters are awful and I already wanted to stay away. No thank you to that.

      I just…it baffles me *why* I am supposed to enjoy a story about terrible people. I kept wracking my brain when it came to this book like…this must be some sort of failing on my part. And the point of the book, I’m sure, is not to leave me feeling bewildered. But I also can’t really fathom what the point actually is. I have no idea. I can deal with “complex” characters in tough or bleak situations. These characters aren’t complex. They are just all around terrible.

      I am with you. I *always* need someone to root for. I’m usually pretty good at staying away from books that are going to bring me down emotionally. I really don’t like issue books (keep me the hell away from every single rape and PTSD story. I read to escape, not be pulled down into the mire), but I can handle cancer books usually. I also thought this would be some sort of ultimately hopeful story given that we already know Alice beats her cancer and the blurb *says* her bucket list is equally about hope. This book isn’t even about the bucket list at all. It’s about a dysfunctional relationship and a character study of these two awful people. So I felt compelled to review this after all because I wanted to warn the people who would have as visceral a reaction to this type of story as I did.

      Ha, I am prepared to stay strong on my 1 star island. This book made me feel terrible. :( Seeing inside Alice’s head for so long made me feel all kinds of down. It was a distressing place to be. I would actually be super fascinated to see a ton of glowing reviews for this book. For real, someone please show me the point I was missing.

      • Kate Bond

        Yeah, You’d hate Gone Girl.

        I usually stay away from rape and PTSD, too. I occasionally enjoy stories about rape victims, but they can’t wallow–they have to be hopeful. I’m listening to The Impossible Knife of Memory, which is about PTSD, oh audiobook right now, and I keep having to turn it off and switch to podcasts. The target audience seems to be people who are not triggered by a very realistic portrayal of PTSD. It’s probably very good for friends and family of people who have experienced trauma.

        At least there are people to root for. I like all the characters a lot.

        • Kim

          Yeah, I’ve been staying away from IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE (I’ve given the caps a try) for those reasons. LHA is a good writer but her books are too heavy for me. Stories about rape victims would be fine as long as they don’t wallow, like you said, and are ultimately hopeful. Also, there can’t be any bullshit in there about how some good dude comes along and heals the girl and now she’s all better because of him. And I just don’t know where that sort of plot line could be lurking so I play it safe and just stay away completely.

    • Kim

      Oh of course! I don’t know any way to be other than honest. It can be a detriment sometimes. :p I’ll be keeping an eye out to see if you like it more than I did. I *really* hope you do.

  20. Aimee @ Deadly Darlings

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Kim! I hated Alice with a burning passion. She was manipulative, selfish and just an ass. I actually didn’t like Harvey, either–it was pretty irritating how he just succumbed to Alice’s every whim (most of the time), how he let her control how he felt and how easily he forgave her. The writing didn’t bode well with me. I mean, it was okay, but I never really felt anything except for my irritation towards the characters. I interacted with Julie Murphy a while back, though, and she does seem like a nice person (unlike the heroine she created) and I do feel that she will improve as a writer. Hopefully. Fantastic review, Kim!
    Aimee @ Deadly Darlings recently posted…Review: All That Glows by Ryan Graudin

    • Kim

      I’m so glad it wasn’t just me, Aimee. I really didn’t care for either of them but Alice was definitely the worse of the two. I get that Harvey gave in to her and let her manipulate him because he “loved” her but that is so messed up! Demand better for yourself, dude! She is terrible not only to him but *everyone.* Ugh, just awful. I never felt anything but irritation, either. I just *truly* do not understand what the point is in creating a book about such a terrible character. Legit honestly asking why I’m supposed to enjoy it. I do not get it at all.

      I am still looking forward to her next book due out next year. I’m pretty eager, actually, to see the differences, and hopefully the improvements!

  21. Cait @ Notebook Sisters

    Oh yes, thank you thank you. I felt horrible about writing my negative review, but in all honesty, I could NOT like this book. I was so angry at the end. “That is classic emotionally abusive behavior.” <– this. Yes. I absolutely agree. Alice abused Harvey the entire time, and at the end with her one good thing? I didn't trust her. Okay so she magically says "now I'm going to be nice", but who's to say she'll keep being nice once the book ends?! She couldn't do it DURING the book. I just…no. I wanted Harvey to get out of there. I felt genuinely happy for him when he was going out with the other girl. I did NOT want Harvey and Alice to be together at all. And maybe I'm just missing something, but if I was dying and then got to live, I think I'd be a mite bit happier.
    Cait @ Notebook Sisters recently posted…Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer by Katie Alender (eat cake and DIE)

    • Kim

      Yeah, I feel pretty bad too but I just can’t with this book. I can’t. And I think you’ve touched on one of the major reasons I felt so dissatisfied. There really is no reason on earth why I should think that Alice is going to be nice now just because she says so. A magical 180 turn at the very end after 98% of the book is her being awful? Oh okay.

      I really don’t get why Alice was so bitter *after* she recovered, either. I’m also fairly certain that if I knew I had a very limited time left in my life I would spend it more concerned with getting as much positivity and love in as I could and less concerned with exacting petty revenge schemes. But I guess that’s just the difference between me and Alice.

  22. Alyn

    I don’t like any book where a lead goes out of their way to hurt people that they don’t like. Maybe if I was a teen again I MIGHT be willing to overlook it but at my age, what she is doing is stupid. It isn’t even worth it. And to use a friend in that way too, that’s a whole new different low.

    • Kim

      It’s so, so low. I couldn’t handle it. I think we’re supposed to forgive Alice because she had cancer. But she was so awful that I just couldn’t do it. Sad times.

    • Kim

      I’m actually glad to hear you’ll still give it a shot, Paige! I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone who thinks they would like this book. I just want to give fair warning to people who’d find themselves bothered by what I wrote about in the review. I hope you have a great reading experience with it. :)

  23. Wendy Darling

    Aw, man. I am so sad you didn’t enjoy this one, Kim! I was a bit worried about how I would feel about it, too (books about illnesses are tough for me), and I think a lot of the things that bothered you would bother me, too.

    The author is so fun and sweet and chatty on Twitter that I have high hopes for her next book, though. Her humor is so infectious that I’d love to see it in a book, I’m actually surprised to hear that SEMV ended up being so somber, even given the subject matter.

    Really appreciate your thorough review, though. I think it gives people a pretty good idea whether the book is for them or not.

    • Kim

      I’m so sad too, Wendy. :( I really wanted to love it. When I haven’t really liked a book, I do my very best to make it clear why it didn’t work for me. I hope that it’s helpful for readers in deciding whether this is for them or not. Glad to hear I succeeded!

      The author sounds like she is simply delightful. I’m so sad she didn’t let a little bit of her humor shine through here. Her next book, DUMPLIN’ (look at me and my caps!!!), does seem like it will be lighter in tone. I’m definitely interested in reading it! Especially if I can get some of that humor!

      • Wendy Darling

        You did a spectacular job of explaining, very fairly, what you didn’t like about Alice, and also making it clear you are not prejudiced against girls who aren’t all sunshine and roses. This line in particular resonated with me:

        Now, I love complex, unlikeable characters; especially when they’re female. Girls face overwhelming societal expectations to be nice, sweet, and smiling at all times. I really love it when characters are unashamedly flawed and human.

        And if you are open to complicated characters and still couldn’t find anything in this character you could like or forgive or understand, well…that’s pretty tough.

        And go you with the all caps! Heee.

  24. Van

    Ugh, I can’t handle it when there are no likeable characters in a book. I guess the author was going for “real”, as in no one’s perfect, but come on! Haha I wasn’t going to read this anyways since I stay away from cancer stories. I tried reading The Fault in Our Stars and stopped near the middle because I could see the ending from a mile away. Didn’t want to get emotionally attached to a book like that, lol.

    I prefer happy endings, or at least satisfying endings. I can’t like a book where the main character is just that bad. Does Alice at least redeem herself in any way? Something to make you sympathize with her or let you see she’s not the total b*tch everyone sees?
    Van recently posted…Legend: What’s the Appeal?

    • Kim

      Yeah, I guess she was going for “real” but it becomes *unreal* with how unlikeable these characters are. It pushes things to the absurd. To be fair, it’s really not a “cancer story” like I think most people think of it. The cancer is mostly in the background since we already know Alice comes through it. This is really the story of Alice and Harvey’s dysfunction. Everything else is background. Yes, she does redeem herself a little bit at the very, very end but it did not resonate with me at all. I’d just spent 330 pages inside her miserable, manipulative brain. It was just too little too late.

  25. Mary @ BookSwarm

    Now, a negative review usually intrigues me but this book? No, thanks. I just DNFed a book (by an auto-buy author, no less. Now that made me sad!) where the main character is a terrible, terrible person. I can’t pick up another book where the dying character is also a terrible person out only for revenge, manipulating a friend who has feelings for her. Thanks, though.
    Mary @ BookSwarm recently posted…Brain Fart

    • Kim

      Oh ouch. I bet that DNF on an auto-buy author hurt, Mary. I’m sorry to hear it. :( I feel fairly confident telling you that if you already don’t like the sound of Alice you’re not going to like this one. So much of the book relies heavily on how well you tolerate her. I could not tolerate her at all hence 1 1/2 stars. It was just painful to watch her be so harmful to the one person who cares for her. I just can’t get past that level selfishness. Better luck next time!

  26. Stephanie Scott

    Unlikeable main characters can be tough to take; I had similar feelings with Gone Girl. Some of what bothered me was the level of manipulation within a marriage that made me question my own life. That’s a powerful book to do something like that. But did I enjoy it? Sort of. The book was brilliant, but it was hard to get through. Seems like this might be one of those books that unless you really click with a moodier take on dysfunction, sans happy endings, it’s going to be a rough read.
    Stephanie Scott recently posted…Chicago North Spring Fling Conference!

    • Kim

      I think you are spot on in your assessment, Stephanie. You really need to be able to connect with the darker, grim tone of this book if you’re going to like it. This book doesn’t even end bleakly. The ending might even be the one little ray of sunshine throughout the entire story. But by the time I’ve slogged through 330 pages of moody dysfunction it’s not even worth it to me. *sigh*

  27. Joy (Joyousreads)

    Oy. Alice sounds like a character I’d more than likely er, NOT like. I like contemporary just fine, but the major draw (as is with other genres) is the character’s ability to appeal to my good side.

    I’d probably quit on this halfway through.

    Great review, Kim.
    Joy (Joyousreads) recently posted…Notes from Ghost Town by Kate Ellison

    • Kim

      Yeah, I think it’s fair to say that enjoyment of this book depends heavily on how much the reader can tolerate Alice. It was tough for me to spend so much time in her head and witness her blatant manipulations. It was readable, though. And I was compelled enough to see it through so there is that. It just left me feeling very “blah” inside and that is something I certainly never enjoy.

  28. Ellen M @ The Canon

    I have been thinking about reading this book, but I think I would have the same reaction as you. It sounds like Alice has no redeeming qualities, something that’s just necessary for being so nasty. Thank you for your honest review & also for linking others – I”m going to check out the other two now!
    Ellen M @ The Canon recently posted…Review: A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey

    • Kim

      Alice has very little in the way of redeeming qualities. She does occasionally think that maybe she shouldn’t be quite so terrible but then continues to be terrible anyway. Toward the very end she gets a bit better but it wasn’t worth it to me. And I just feel so bad about how strongly I felt about disliking this book that I felt it only fair to offer up some other opinions. I hope they can all be helpful and if you do read it, I hope your experience is much better than mine was.

  29. Angel (Spare Reads)

    So… pretty much after I read the blurb I was fearing what you described here – over emphasizing on the revenge schemes + Alice manipulating Harvey. Somehow the synopsis alluded these notions to me, and well, I guess I should be happy now that I’m getting better at filtering books based on blurbs :P I can totally understand your frustrations and I absolutely *HATE* abusive relationships. Alice sounds like someone who has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, so I will probably save myself from her spiteful presence. Great review Kim, as always!
    Angel (Spare Reads) recently posted…Review: Across the Universe (Across the Universe, #1)

    • Kim

      You are sharper than I am, Angel, because I was *not* expecting it! I wish I had your blurb spotting skills. :p Yeah, it just curdled my blood how manipulative Alice was. Such an unpleasant experience to spend so much time in the head of someone so nasty. She has very little in the way of redeeming qualities and makes just one attempt to really do something good at the very, very end. After I’ve slogged through 330 pages of nastiness. No thanks.

  30. Carina Olsen

    Okay, ew. I do not think I would enjoy this book at all. Sigh. Glad I did not buy it, hih (A) I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it much, though. But thank you so so so much for being honest :D Loved reading your review. <3 (Also, I do not books that make me angry. I want to read books that make me happy. Sigh.)
    Carina Olsen recently posted…Review: The Forever Song by Julie Kagawa

    • Kim

      Right? I’d like a book to either make me really happy or break my heart. I’m fine with either. But please don’t be rage inducing. And you’re welcome, of course! I hope I can at least be helpful when reviewing a book I didn’t like.

  31. Jasprit

    Eeek I’m sorry that this book didn’t work out for you Kim, but I think that both Alice and Harvey would end up frustrating me hugely. Also character growth is what I like to see in books, so wouldn’t understand the point in the then and now perspectives, if Alice just stays the same? Thank you for your honest review Kim, I have this book coming up pretty soon, so I’m grateful for the heads up!
    Jasprit recently posted…Review: Fire (Graceling Realm #2) by Kristin Cashore

    • Kim

      Oh I’ll be eager to see what you make of it, Jasprit. I sincerely hope your experience is much better than mine. Yeah, I really don’t mind reading about terrible characters when the story shows a progression of growth. That barely happens at all in this book. Enjoyment of this book is going to depend heavily on how much you can tolerate Alice. Good luck with your read. :)

  32. ashley

    I continue to want to read this just to see how my pov differs from yours. That being said, I found this review fascinating and extremely helpful because I am “emotional” rater, too. I often can’t stop myself from reviewing the same way.
    ashley recently posted…Lady Thief (Scarlet #2) by A.C. Gaughen

    • Kim

      Oh I cannot wait for you to read it, Ash. You know I am just dying to get your opinion. You must tell me if there is something wrong with me or this book or what is itttttt. Halp. Ha, is there any way to go about everything in life other than “emotionally” because I do not know how to do that.

  33. julie@my5monkeys

    I couldn’t even get through this book and I did some reviews from goodreads regarding the not so nice behavior , so I did try to read it. I did think the time line was wonky for me too. Thanks for the honest review.
    julie@my5monkeys recently posted…Death Sworn Book Review

    • Kim

      I’m glad to see I wasn’t the only one, Julie. I’m certain that this is a glowing 5 star book for some people. I am just not one of them.

  34. Amber @ Books of Amber

    Oh no. I was very hesitant about reading this because I’m not big on cancer stories and I generally avoid them as much as I can. I thought that maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal in this book, and the after effects of the MC’s actions would be the focus. But since you say it’s grim, I’m going to continue avoiding this one. I can deal with selfish characters, and in fact I quite enjoy them, but I don’t think I’d be able to get past the non-existent character growth.

    • Kim

      You know, it really isn’t like a cancer book how we usually think of them. We already know that Alice comes through it. The cancer part is really in the background. It’s mostly just focused on Alice and Harvey’s dysfunction. So there is that.

      But it is so, so grim. It’s just painful to watch Alice be so terrible to Harvey for so long. I didn’t like being in Alice’s head as she spat invective everywhere. Blegh. Not a good feeling. Just *so* negative. I can’t handle that much negativity! With very little character growth it was just too much.

    • Kim

      I hope you like it a lot better than I did, Lisa! Like I said, it was a pretty personal rating. I was just surprised by how much it affected me and in such a negative way. People who love dark, complicated contemp will probably enjoy it a great deal!