I was not convinced that I could really enjoy a quirky book, but I really did this time. From a stealth pooping cat named Anne of Green Gables!!! to a difficult apology that involves sun bonnets and dialogue straight from Little House on the Prairie – this book cracked me up. I gave Optimists Die First a five star rating, not because it was perfect, but because it was perfectly fun to read. High five, Susin Nielsen!
Life ahead: Proceed with caution.
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.
Look, this book made me laugh a lot. That means something, especially considering these characters are dealing with some real downer stuff. It’s just that they are all so surprising and still easy enough to imagine as real people who might populate your own art therapy class from Hell. They feel genuine, and the situations feel honest. I admit that it took a few chapters to convince myself that I could roll with Petula, but now we are fast friends. I will say that tough girl Koula almost stole the show for me, and I hope she gets a story of her own someday. Her tattoo alone is worth the read. Themes of forgiveness, grief and friendship add nice depth and go surprisingly well with the humor. I want this in my high school classroom library. I know there are many of my students who could appreciate the most disfunctional and bizarrely heartwarming version of The Breakfast Club I have ever seen. Language and situations are appropriate for grades 10+.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.