Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Optimists Die First by Susan Nielsen

Optimists Die First
by Susin Nielsen

Release Date: Februray 21, 2017
Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random House
Paperback: $17.99

Award-winning author Susin Nielsen has written a laugh-out-loud and heartrending novel for fans of Robyn Schneider’s Extraordinary Means and Cammie McGovern’s Say What You Will

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. . .
Hit the jump for more!

About the Author

Susin Nielsen is a Canadian author for children and young adults. She received a Governor General's Award and the 2013 Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children Award for her young adult novel The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, which deals with the aftermath of a school shooting.

Brief Review

Teenagers are often engrossed in tragedy. As a high school teacher, I see grief all too often, and teenagers especially do not know how to deal with it. Such is the case with 16 year old Petula who is dealing with the death of her baby sister.

Petula doesn't quite know how to cope with her sister's death, and since she blames herself, the guilt never goes away. She becomes increasingly paranoid of the world around her, gradually becoming more and more pessimistic. Her pessimism and paranoia lead her to have these unorthodox fears of the world and everything in it. Her parents, who know she is not dealing with their daughter's death, inform Petula that she will be taking art therapy classes. This part of the book reminds me a lot of The Fault in Our Stars as Petula is put into a situation where she doesn't really want to be there, but it is this setting that leads to her being able to pull herself out of her grief-stricken mindset.

Well, it's really more of a person, Jacob, who lost his arm in a car crash that claimed the lives of his two friends. Much like Hazel, Petula doesn't want to get close to anyone, but eventually, she realizes that there's more to Jacob than a pity party. Petula and Jacob form a close relationship, more so than Petula ever thought, and they begin to use their talents to build their relationship (and Petula's fascination with cats). 

Nielsen is able to showcase adolescent grief in a way that encourages readers to understand coping mechanisms and find relationships that can help teens through difficult situations and tragedies. While the romance seems obvious, the story itself remains light. While optimists may die first, Petula begins to find that optimism again and relearn to love life.

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