Optimists Die First (Susin Nielsen)

Petula has avoided friendship and happiness ever since tragedy struck her family and took her beloved younger sister Maxine. Worse, Petula blames herself. If only she’d kept an eye on her sister, if only she’d sewn the button Maxine choked on better, if only…

Now her anxiety is getting out of control, she is forced to attend the world’s most hopeless art therapy class. But one day, in walks the Bionic Man: a charming, amazingly tall newcomer called Jacob, who is also an amputee. Petula’s ready to freeze him out, just like she did with her former best friend, but when she’s paired with Jacob for a class project, there’s no denying they have brilliant ideas together – ideas like remaking Wuthering Heights with cats.

But Petula and Jacob each have desperately painful secrets in their pasts – and when the truth comes out, there’s no way Petula is ready for it.

As per usual, I read this book as a buddy read with Cátia @The Girl Who Read Too. Go to her blog in the next few days to read her take on this book.

I have to say that I was a tiny little bit scared of starting this book. I read a few mixed reviews, and some that claimed that the book suffered from “the boy saves her from her issues“, and I was scared. But still, we needed to get to it, and we were late already, so I sucked it up and read it.

And guys, I was pleasantly surprised.

The first thing that struck me was how much I actually enjoyed the writing. This was my first book by Susin Nielsen, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The book is told through Petula’s POV, and when she starts the book and calls Jacob “Bionic Man”, I cringed a little. But then it was super enjoyable, fun and fast. Even when dealing with super difficult and important topics.

I enjoyed the characters too. Petula was a bit weird sometimes, but I liked her quirks, and I understood them. The world is a big and scary place, and what she went through at such a young age? Yeah… it would mess anyone up.

I also liked Jacob, I liked his easygoing nature and how he faced life, but because the book is told through Petula’s POV, I felt like something was missing.

This was also my issue with their group of misfit friends. I thought there was so much potential there, but I wanted more interaction, more scenes between them. I wanted them all more fleshed out.

I thought it was great that Petula’s parents were such a huge part of the story, because their grief was palpable, and I thought it was so well represented.

My main issues with this book was actually the super fast pace and some points of the plot. Optimists Die First is super fast, and that didn’t allow for the full flesh out of some characters, but it also took away from relationship development. Like the one between Petula and Jacob.

I thought that particular relationship developed super hyper fast, and one moment they were kissing, and in the next they were taking their clothes off. It didn’t feel natural to me, at all. Petula had some pretty big issues with contact, and no matter how horny she was, I don’t believe that she would jump into a sexual relationship that fast. Also, she was super young and Jacob was her first real boyfriend, and while I could see them taking steps and it happening eventually, it didn’t feel right at the moment it did.

I didn’t feel like the Jacob “cured” Petula AT ALL! Jacob did try to bring her out of her comfort zone, but it was their group and the friendships she formed that help alliviate some of her biggest fears. She tried, she wanted to get better, and I don’t think that was all due to Jacob. But the book messes a little up when at some point it says something along the lines of “Jacob brought you back to life“. That wasn’t necessary and it takes a bit away from the story and the roles of the other characters.

Overall I really enjoyed this one, and I would still recommend it. It deals with several types of grief and sentiments of guilt and inadequacy, and those are so important. Give it a try.