Monday, June 30, 2014

Zac & Mia by A.J. Betts—Not just another cancer story

Zac is seventeen years, and he has leukemia. He has been in the hospital for ten months recovering from a bone marrow transplant. His days are filled with watching TV, solving crosswords with his mom, and playing Call of Duty. He’s counting down the days until he leaves the hospital and can be normal again when he hears the new girl in the adjacent room.

Mia is also seventeen and has osteosarcoma in her leg. She is loud and rude, and her mother can barely stand to be in the same room. She plays Lady Gaga way too loud, and it’s enough to make Zac knock on the wall to make her stop. Her quiet tap in return begins the sordid friendship that carries the remainder of the book.

Zac has a good handle on his situation. He has accepted having cancer and focuses on his recovery. On the other hand, Mia hasn’t told any of her friends that she’s sick and tries to maintain an air of mystery of Facebook. Where once she was popular, she now worries about how she would be perceived by her friends and the guys that try to impress her. While Zac’s treatment is over, and he can go home, Mia’s chemo isn’t working, and she will need a surgery that ends up taking everything away from her.

The alternating narration between Zac and Mia is unique and creates a more dynamic story than if told solely through Zac or Mia’s perspective. It’s interesting to read the play between the chapters and how well the characters work together to feed off each other’s energy. Zac is a lovable character, and it’s easy to see why he’s such a fighter. He has a great support system within his family. Conversely, Mia has a mother who appears too young to be equipped to handle a teenage daughter with cancer. She begins to rely on Zac’s three am Facebook chats as a way to cope with not being her definition of normal. When Zac checks out of the hospital, she’s left with no one that can be her sounding board, no one to help her through this.

While the dual narration creates a quick read, it begins to appear after Part One (Zac’s narration) that Mia is more of the central character of the novel, thus negating the title. I would have rather read a book from Mia’s point of view, one who hates cancer and struggles with her identity than Zac’s point of view, which seems too good to be true. Mia comes across as standoffish and awkward, but you can hardly blame her with everything she’s experiencing. No one wants to have cancer, and no child should have to deal with the process alone. 

Mia is physically, emotionally, and mentally damaged, and her anger is justified. She goes through a whirlwind of convictions, much more realistic than Green’s Hazel Grace Lancaster. But you never quite feel the chemistry between Zac and Mia in the way you do Hazel and Augustus. Of course, not every cancer story needs to be overcast with love. Sometimes, friendship is enough. In the end, the book is less about cancer and more about finding one’s identity and a sense of normalcy.

**FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free review copy from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any money for this review. **

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