contemporary · review · romance · young adult

Optimists Die First -Susin Nielsen

“Optimists believe things will always work out for the best. Optimists live in a rainbow-coloured, sugar-coated land of denial. Optimists miss warning signs.”

 

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Blurb: “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.”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Optimists Die First centres on Petula who is struggling to cope with family tension and the death of her younger sister; of which she feels personally responsible for. Petula is terrified of doing anything that may result in a negative outcome, mainly death, and keeps a scrapbook of freak accidents to prove her point. She suffers from panic attacks, attends counselling, and a weekly Youth Art Class with other teens needing support.

Through this class she meets a variety of people, each with their own struggles, one of which is a new boy called Jacob who lost his arm in a car accident. Jacob and Petula are paired together to work on a class assignment in which they have to adapt a scene from Wuthering Heights into another format.  As is to be expected, they bond over their time together and learn about each other and what problems they’re trying to work through and they become quite close.

Oddly enough, it’s rare that I read books where the actual protagonist really sticks with me after finishing but Petula really surprised me. I’m not a big fan of YA contemporary as they always steer to romance (and this had its fair share) but Petula felt so real. The reasons for how she was, while unhealthy, felt justified given her backstory and the book being from her perspective really helped gain an understanding of trying to fit in and learn to live, even within the tight restrictions she’d placed on herself. Several times I found myself wanting nothing more than to climb into the book and give her a hug. As her relationship with Jacob develops she starts to take more risks, doing some things even though she’s analysed the dangerous outcomes several times and then there comes a point when she doesn’t even think about them anymore. And if that isn’t a beautiful progression of a character then I don’t know what is!

Another seemingly minor aspect I really enjoyed was the mention of birth control. When it comes to that stage of a relationship, especially in a novel about teenagers, I don’t think birth control is mentioned that much so it was wonderful to have a character like Petula who, not only decides to go on birth control but actually involves a parent in her decision. There’s even a segment where Petula recalls going to the doctors and getting the implant.

The Youth Art Class teens starting to talk to each other and spend time together reminded me of The Breakfast Club gang and it was just really nice to see these characters start to open up a little to each other.

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