Side Effects May Vary author Julie Murphy reveals her own bucketlist, discusses The Fault In Our Stars comparisons, and more.
What would you do if you knew you never had to face the consequences of your actions? Alice is dying, and her bucket list is all about revenge. But when she goes into remission, suddenly things are not so clear. Like, how do you go back to school when you’re the “cancer girl”? And how do you face your childhood best friend, now that your relationship has transformed in a way that you never expected?
Told from the dual perspectives of Alice and her best friend Harvey, Side Effects May Vary alternates between “Then” and “Now” in a heart-wrenching story of empathy and understanding.
Side Effects May Vary is a wonderful, brave book. Alice is often unlikeable, and although Harvey offers a welcome balance to this, some readers may find it tough going at points.
But if you persevere, you will discover in Murphy a new intelligent and humorous Young Adult voice, one that is uncompromising and devastating. And you might discover that Alice is not so horrible, and not so different, as you first believed when you first encountered her.
Interview: Julie Murphy
Hypable: Alice can be a fairly unlikeable character – were you worried at any point that this would compromise a reader’s ability to empathise with her?
Julie Murphy: I definitely didn’t want to alienate readers, but my main concern was to stay true to Alice. Her cancer is as emotional as it is physical, and her greatest flaws are also her greatest strengths (as are Harvey’s). She’s not the picture of likeability to begin with, but when she goes into remission she’s also having to learn to live with the possibility of a relapse. It’s a lot to accept.
Harvey is so much of the reason why readers might dislike Alice, but we also see her best self through his eyes. A book is always going to be about the best or worst part of a character’s life. Sometimes we shine. Sometimes we don’t. Alice definitely does not, but by the end she’s begun to find her road to redemption.
Hypable: You have made some interesting structural choices, like dividing the time period into ‘Then’ and ‘Now’, and using dual narrators. How did you come to make these decisions?
Julie Murphy: The funny thing is that, for the most part, the story was always told like this. It never felt like a deliberate decision because it seemed so natural. I probably got about fifty pages into Alice’s voice before I realized how much we needed Harvey.
Alice is a fairly unreliable narrator, so we really need Harvey to give us a more grounded take on events. Too, Harvey is a breath of fresh air, so his voice served as a nice accent to Alice’s. Also, I love writing and reading nonlinear stories. I think it adds so much to the pacing.
Hypable: ‘Side Effects May Vary’ is about a girl with cancer, but that seems to be the means to tell a story about the kinds of decisions we would make if we knew that there would be no consequences. What would you do if knew that you wouldn’t have to deal with the aftermath?
Julie Murphy: Ten years ago, I was very much an Alice. I was angry. I was spiteful. I was manipulative. I’m still that girl. I’m still clever, snarky, and calculating, but I’ve matured. I’ve learned it’s okay to have my guard down. I’ve learned that kindness is not a weakness.
So Julie ten years ago? Her list would have looked a whole lot like Alice’s. But Julie now? Now my list consists of things like traveling and getting more tattoos. But I guess if I could, I might go out of my way to really school some ignorant people. Oh, and I would just spend every cent in my bank account without thinking twice. I grew up pretty poor, so I’ve been pretty obnoxious when it comes to spending money.
Hypable: Despite the huge differences in content and style (and everything else, really), your debut will inevitably be compared to John Green’s incredibly successful ‘The Fault in Our Stars.’ As your release date approaches, have you felt any additional pressure because of this?
Julie Murphy: You know, it’s pretty intimidating. TFiOS is well loved by so many people, but like you said Side Effects May Vary is totally different. I definitely trust readers to differentiate the two.
Still, it’s always a little terrifying when someone says, “I Love The Fault in Our Stars! I can’t wait to read your book!” I have great deal of respect for Mr. Green, but we are birds of different colors.
Hypable: Which do you find easier to write, the first or the last line of a book?
Julie Murphy: Definitely the last line! When I write that first line, I have no idea where I’m heading. Usually by the time I write the last line, I have to go back and rewrite that first line. I always aim for the first line and last line to relate back to one another.
In the case of SEMV’s first line, Alice is telling the reader that she was taught to value truth above all. In that last line, she’s finally beginning to speak her own truth.
Hypable: What book are currently reading and loving?
Julie Murphy: I’m actually drafting my next YA, so I’m not currently reading because I am so easily distracted. But I recently read The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu and adored it! I cannot wait for it be out in the world, so people can actually buy it when I talk about it.
Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy is available now through Penguin in Australia, and HarperCollins in the United States