Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Book Review: Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen

I received a copy of Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Description (From Goodreads):  
Life ahead: Proceed with caution.

Sixteen-year-old Petula De Wilde is anything but wild. A family tragedy has made her shut herself off from the world. Once a crafting fiend with a happy life, Petula now sees danger in everything, from airplanes to ground beef.

The worst part of her week is her comically lame mandatory art therapy class. She has nothing in common with this small band of teenage misfits, except that they all carry their own burden of guilt.

When Jacob joins their ranks, he seems so normal and confident. Petula wants nothing to do with him, or his prosthetic arm. But when they’re forced to collaborate on a unique school project, she slowly opens up, and he inspires her to face her fears.

Until a hidden truth threatens to derail everything.

My review: 

Optimists Die First is a sweet contemporary young adult book that focuses on mental illness.  The main character, Petula de Wilde (what a name!) is obsessed with the dangers that could be lurking around every corner.  She fills her time with collecting newspaper articles about freak accidents and memorizing statistics.  This is Petula’s way of dealing with the death of her younger sibling.  Her mom copes with the loss of her youngest child by collecting cats – literally becoming the crazy cat lady.   Petula’s parents fight and she does everything she can – including clean up after all the cats – in hopes of preventing a fight or her parents having to do anything around the house.

Petula has to take part in an art therapy class which she hates and thinks is lame until Jacob joins the class.  Petula starts to make friends and starts to face her fears and actually have fun, until she learns something about Jacob that feels like a betrayal and sends her on a tailspin, back into her morbid behavior.  Does she reconcile with Jacob, her new friends and former best friend?  Does she let go of the morbid behavior?  I won’t spoil the surprise for you – read the book – it’s quite lovely.

I really liked Petula and her weirdness – both before and after Jacob joins the group.  Her obsession with death is understandable and her quirkiness is relatable.  I also liked learning about the motley band of kids in her art therapy class and her idealistic and somewhat silly art teacher – who wanted to work with younger students.  I love the range of emotions and the depth to the characters plus the growth each character shares along the way. 

This story was very sweet and a great read.  I gave it 4 stars.  I recommend it to adults and teens who like quirky characters and who have an interest in mental illness.

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