The Book That Made Me: David Almond 20/03/19
Optimists Die First
Publisher: Andersen Press
Sixteen year-old Petula's life is ruled by extreme anxiety, fear and pessimism after her little sister died two years before, a death she feels responsible for. Her lovely parents are obviously deeply unhappy and coping in their own dysfunctional ways (her dad throws himself into his work and her mum into cats).
Then Petula meets Jacob at her art therapy group. Jacob (who has a prosthetic arm following a car accident) is seemingly a ray of sun-shiney optimism, and an unconventional and tender love story unfolds. However, like Petula, Jacob is in fact battling feelings of intense guilt about the past, which cannot be buried. This story is about families, friendship, coping with grief and OCD - and generally dealing with the problems life may throw at us at any age but particularly when growing up.
As is usual with Susin Nielsen's books, the prose flows effortlessly and the most serious of subjects are tackled with the lightest of touches. Optimists Die First sweeps you into Petula's life and mind so tenderly and vibrantly, one feels almost bereft on finishing the last page. Susin Nielsen always leaves you wanting more - and at the end of Optimists Die First she delivers a little extra nugget for fans of Word Nerd (we meet an old friend in the epilogue).
This is another five star read from Susin Nielsen, one of the most talented teen writers working today. There are sexual references, but most 12 year olds will be comfortable with them or can easily skip past if they need to.