Nielsen, Susin Optimists Die First, 224 pages. Wendy Lamb Books, 2017. $17.99. Language: PG (12 swears, 0 "f"); Mature Content:PG-13; Violence:PG.
Sixteen-year-old Petula DeWilde is a “crafting fiend” with a pretty normal life until her four-year-old sister dies in a tragic accident and Petula blames herself. Now, Petula obsessively collects news stories about other tragic accidents and spends more time avoiding life than living it. Her parents also struggle to deal with their loss in their own dysfunctional ways. Petula is a loner at school and dreads her group art therapy session each week. Her therapy group is an eclectic group of oddballs who spend more time arguing with each other than working on their own issues. One day, a boy named Jacob, with a prosthetic arm and a quirky sense of humor, joins the group and Petula takes notice. Jacob helps Petula and other members of the group overcome their grief through his video production skills. In contrast, Jacob’s attempts to hide from his own guilt and grief, almost tear the couple apart when the truth is finally exposed.
This book, full of eccentric characters and real-life issues, was easy to read and to relate to in many ways. Some mature aspects (undressing, birth control, & inferred sex) were introduced partway through the book, making it unsuitable for most middle grade readers. Anyone who has dealt with loss or a dysfunctional family would enjoy and benefit from this read. Though I am not a cat-lover myself, I still found myself laughing more than cringing at the abundance of cats and cat videos involved in the story. A few of the pop culture references were dated (1980s). The theme of loss and grief could be a bit depressing, but overcoming grief and isolation were relevant topics for teens & adults alike.
HS-ADVISABLE. Reviewer: Stacee S.