Review: Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen

I received an e-arc of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book in any way.

Publisher: Andersen

Published: March 2017

Pages: 272


Petula has avoided friendship and happiness ever since tragedy struck her family and took her beloved younger sister Maxine. Worse, Petula blames herself. If only she’d kept an eye on her sister, if only she’d sewn the button Maxine chocked on better, if only…

Now her anxiety is getting out of control, she is forced to attend the world’s most hopeless art therapy class. But one day, in walks the Bionic Man: a charming, amazingly tall newcomer called Jacob, who is also an amputee. Petula’s ready to freeze him out, just like she did with her former best friend, but when she’s paired with Jacob for a class project, there’s no denying they have brilliant ideas together – ideas like remaking Wuthering Heights with cats.

But Petula and Jacob each have desperately painful secrets in their pasts – and when the truth comes out, there’s no way Petula is ready for it.

My Thoughts…

This was a charming, pleasant read. I particularly enjoyed the humor in the book: there were several funny situations and the sarcasm was just spot on. This is certainly a book that attempts to treat very serious issues, like grief, guilt and mental illness, in a light way. Petula is definitely already on her way to improvement, even though her anxiety at the beginning of the book is starting to spiral out of control again. But, it seemed to me, she actually wants to get better, and Jacob’s arrival is just what she needs to get out of her shell again.

The characters were kind of hit and miss. I adored Petula: she really has her own voice and stands out from the background. She has been through hell, yet she still somehow finds the energy to come out on top of it and support her parents in the process. And that’s another thing I liked: Petula has a good, healthy relationship with both of her parents, and actually talks to them, especially her mom, about important stuff for a teenage girl, like her love life. It’s incredibly refreshing to finally see a teenager that doesn’t keep a load of secrets from her parents, but actually asks for advice and talks about herself. Of course, this being a YA novel, the parents don’t need to take up too much space, but they still manage to be a felt presence throughout. As for the rest of the cast, Jacob was… ok, I guess. He’s charming, friendly, and hides a dark secret. Aside from this, I didn’t really find that much more to him. The rest of the cast is incredibly varied and colourful. The guys in art therapy, in particular, were pretty amazing, and I would have loved to see some more of them throughout. Still, I enjoyed their evolution in the book.

The one thing that really let me down in the whole book is the fact that, after doing an amazing job of showing Petula’s progress, right towards the end, everything is brought down to Jacob having “saved” her.

This is the only thing I really couldn’t get past: getting over trauma and healing from anxiety cannot be reduced to a boy falling for you. Just, no.

This last point aside, I quite enjoyed the book. Its light tone, humor and short length made it a perfectly relaxing read in between other more “intense” reads.

Rating: 3/5


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