Thursday, 30 March 2017

Optimists Die First

Author: Susin Nielsen
Genre: Teen, Contemporary Fiction, Canadian
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 240
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
First Published: February 21, 2017
First Line: "The first time I saw The Bionic Man I was covered in sparkles."

Book Description from GoodReadsLife 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 Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: Last year I was introduced to Canadian author Susin Nielsen's work when I read We Are All Made of Molecules (a truly fabulous, hilarious, heart-felt book which I highly recommend).  When I heard that she had a new book out it was a no-brainer that I'd do anything to get my hands on a copy.

In Optimists Die First, Nielsen focuses her story on Petula who suffers from such a high level of anxiety that she worries about everything. The reason for her heightened anxieties are slowly revealed to the reader but meanwhile she tries to cope the best ways she can - which include participating in a peer support group and its quirky, diverse group of characters who form a unique bond with each other.

The first half of the book I was taken in by the characters and witnessing Petula's daily struggle with her multiple phobias.  But the second half, where 'teen love conquers all', held my attention less. Petula's severe and multiple anxieties seemed to be lessened not as much by therapy but by the love of a good man and I take issue with that.  Petula also seemed to overcome her deep-seated anxieties a little too easily and with this being a rather short book there wasn't page time to delve deeper into some of the teen anxiety issues that were raised. That's a shame because Nielsen approaches teen issue with such sensitivity.

Overall, this was a good read. It touches on serious topics that affect today's teens - teen mental health, grief, guilt, loss, teen sex (in a very positive way), friendship - all with a cast of quirky, off-beat characters and some good twists for the reader.

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