Friday, February 3, 2017

Book review - Optimists Die First

Title: Optimists Die First
Author: Susin Nielsen
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner
                     When We Collided by Emery Lord
A pleasant, though predictable, read

Summary (provided by publisher): Beware: Life ahead.
Sixteen-year-old Petula de Wilde is anything but wild. A former crafting fiend with a happy life, Petula shut herself off from the world after a family tragedy. She sees danger in all the ordinary things, like crossing the street, a bug bite, or a germy handshake. She knows: life is out to get you.
The worst part of her week is her comically lame mandatory art therapy class with a small group of fellow misfits. Then a new boy, Jacob, appears at school and in her therapy group. He seems so normal and confident, though he has a prosthetic arm; and soon he teams up with Petula on a hilarious project, gradually inspiring her to let go of some of her fears. But as the two grow closer, a hidden truth behind why he’s in the group could derail them, unless Petula takes a huge risk. . .

My opinion: We count on Nielsen to take a close look at grief and mental illness with heart and a surprising level of humor. Blame, especially self-blame, is a fairly standard element of grief, as is the collapse of the family unit. Add in the love interest and the obvious secrets between them and this could easily have become a predictable, cliched mess. What saves it is the charm of the characters. We have a delightful cast of damaged teens doing  their best to survive high school. While they, too, tend towards tropes, they have just enough individualism to make them compelling. It's eminently readable if not particularly unique.

More Information: Optimists Die First releases February 21.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

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