After reading Susin Nielsen’s We are all Made of Molecules a year ago (and not particularly loving it – or hating it), I decided to give Nielsen’s next book a go: Optimists Die First. After reading the first few chapters, I was very intrigued and I thought that this would be an amazing book. Alas, there were a few things that let this book down.
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.
Ok, let me just get a few rants out of the way first because I feel like I need to vent. I finished reading this book about ten minutes ago, so I’ve got all of the feels building up inside of me just waiting to burst out. The one thing that just really, really annoyed me about this book was that, yet again, a boy makes someone’s mental illness all better. Because IT REALLY IS THAT EASY, FOLKS! *sarcasm* Petula doesn’t really go on her own individual journey of discovering how to help herself. She relies completely upon Jacob to make her feel better about herself, and I just think that’s a completely unhealthy portrayal to have in a young adult book. Granted, quite a lot of young adult book use this trope of a girls mental illness or troubles being suddenly made easier because of a boy, and I’m sick of it. But reading this book – I guess – was the breaking point. Instead of Jacob and Petula getting back together after that big reveal, I wish that Petula would have just stayed single, showed us some strength… Instead, she went back into her comfort zone. I just want to see female characters in young adult novels who don’t have to rely on men to make their mental health better…
“Always expect the worst. That way, you might stand a chance of protecting yourself and the ones you love.”
– Susin Nielsen, Optimists Die First
Also, at the beginning of the book, Petula calls Jacob the Bionic Man for like… 3/4 chapters? Yeah, because someone with a disability isn’t anything else but that. *again, sarcasm*. I found it really offensive that she called him that. Petula couldn’t see past the fact that he had a prosthetic arm so just gave him a nickname instead. Nice. Well done, Petula.
Ok… I think that might be my rant over… But I can’t really promise anything because I’m on a roll right now. Let’s just move onto the good things about this book though. I really did love the writing style in this. I could tell that Nielsen had grown as a writer as it was much better than We are all Made of Molecules. The writing style seemed to flow better, the characters were more developed and the plot was more interesting. I especially loved how the YART group made short movies to portray how they were feeling and used the movies to help themselves face their fears. I thought it was very clever of Nielsen to do this as it created a bond between the students that was absolutely amazing. Even the secondary characters were very three-dimensional and written really well. I loved the
I loved the relationship development between Rachel and Petula – I thought that it was healthy for Nielson to convey a female friendship that wasn’t all about bitchiness. She showed both of them growing as people and forgiving and accepting. However, one part of character growth that I really didn’t like was Petula at the end. Her attitude was very me, me, me, and she didn’t stop to think how Jacob was feeling after that big reveal. I thought that she was very selfish, to be honest and it just completely put me off her.
Overall, this book definitely has its problems, but it was still an enjoyable read for me and I definitely liked it more than We are all Made of Molecules. It’ll be interesting to see what Nielsen’s next book is like.
Warning: this book contains triggers for death, depression, substance abuse.
Disclaimer: this book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review