I received this book for free from Wendy Lamb Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen
Published by Wendy Lamb Books on February 21st, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Mental Health, YA
Source: Wendy Lamb Books
Buy on Amazon
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 feelings about this novel as about as complex as they get. Optimists Die First does some really great things but also needs a whole lot of work. Keep in mind that this is all based on an ARC version of the book as opposed to the finished copy and ARCs and finished copies can be worlds apart.
For starters, this book is about as cute as it sounds and looks. It is short and sweet and all about friendships and journeys. As one character in the book says, Optimists Die First is a ‘twisted version of the breakfast club.’
There is a complex portrayal of MH without any real labels and that was great. Petula has to go to mandatory art therapy and kind of really hates it. She doesn’t like any of the kids there and they don’t like her. And together, they don’t like the things their art therapist makes them do. But when Jacob joins the crew, they start getting along, magic happens. Is he a manic-pixie dream boy? Short answer: yeah, a little bit. Long answer: its complicated. He definitely has those character traits but at the end of the day he has to let go of them to really undergo character development. He is a mysterious character and one we don’t know much about except that he is an optimist.
Part of the deal is that this book really isn’t Jacob’s story. It’s Petula’s. It is her journey to reclaiming her life. The problem is is that this reclamation seems to rely heavily on Jacob’s presence. It’s instigated by him and happens largely because of him. Needing someone to push you in the right direction is so important but I wish it hadn’t been a random new boy and rather someone she was closer too? I love that Petula actually makes new friends and reconnects with old ones over the course of the book but I felt a tad uncomfortable with the fact that her journey relied heavily on Jacob’s presence and occurred largely in part because of him. Girl Against the Universe does something similar but in a way that actually works and is beneficial to both parties instead of just seeming like a ‘guy saves girl’ trope.
Unsurprisingly, there is a romance between Petula and Jacob and unsurprisingly, I was unimpressed. I am a slow-burn person so maybe it is just me but Petula and Jacob get close real quick and go through the stages of their relationship really quickly. The fault isn’t even the timeline but rather the fact the book is so fast paced that there isn’t as much time spend developing certain relationships.
So while I am giving this book 3 stars, it is a strong 3 stars because this book is pleasant and a quick read. It does good things with mental health but needs a little bit more work to take it to the next level (and who knows, maybe that already happened in the finished copy and I just don’t know!) Don’t be quick to passover the book but Optimists Die First has a lot to offer like adorable friendships and other general cuteness!
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