Being the average pessimistic person, I felt like reading this book could be eye-opening, and really refreshing. I haven’t read that many stories with pessimistic characters, up to the point where Petula, the main character of this story, is. See, she collects stories about how people tragically die, she can’t walk past construction sites because there might be a chance something would fall on her, or take an elevator because she had read too many stories about that just as well. Petula wasn’t born that way, her baby sister’s death, whom she feels guilty for, made her look over her shoulder constantly, and only half-living because of the constant worrying and pessimism.
A CHARACTER-DRIVEN BOOK
From what you can guess already by reading this and the synopsis of this book, this is a young adult contemporary, very character-driven story. There is not heart-stopping action at all, it’s more of a life-story events, but the character growth is stunning – if you enjoy books like that, I’d definitely advice you to pick up that one. I can’t and won’t talk too much about the plot because, if there are obviously some kind of actions and revelations driving the book forward, as I said before, it’s more about the characters here.
Every character in the story was interesting and well-thought-of, with their own life stories, quirks and flaws – this was definitely one of the strong suits of this book: how flawed and realistic the characters were.
A REALISTIC RELATIONSHIP AT THE HEART OF THE STORY, BUT A “LOVE CURES” KIND OF TROPE.
“But now that I see all this and realize I couldn’t even have dreamed any of it because it was all so far off my radar, I have this weird uncomfortable twinge in my chest. Because . . . what else haven’t I bothered to dream, not thinking things could get any better?”
As you guessed it now, Petula is a very anxious and pessimist teenager. If, at times, her anxiety was relatable – speaking out, trying to reach out to new people, simply being anxious about working in pairs -, at other moments I felt like it wasn’t too realistic. But before heading into that part of the review, let’s talk about THE BOY.
See, there’s a boy in this story – name’s Jacob, new guy at school, had a weird metal hand and doesn’t speak much about what happened to him before he arrived. Upon his arrival and as the two of them are forced to get closer thanks to an assignment, Petula changes, and their relationship evolves in a very obvious, yet interesting way. There is no insta-love here at all, which was refreshing to read about: their relationship slowly builds up and grows, from strangers to friends to more than that. Slowly, we realize that this relationship the author is painting is one where they bring out the best in each other, which is on the one hand, super cute, but on the other hand, a bit unrealistic because…
Well, Petula manages to slowly get rid of her anxiety and it’s all because of this boy. It seemed a bit to me like a “love cures everything” kind of trope, which I moderately enjoyed. However, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy their interactions, and toward the ending, the evolution of their relationship felt very realistic as well, tackling interesting and deeper issues you can’t always find in teenage romances, such as losing and gaining someone’s trust again.
If you love contemporaries and books giving a great deal of time and space to its characters, then I’d definitely recommend Optimists Die First. If a couple of things in the story felt unrealistic, the characters and their relationships were very real, and got me smiling more than once.
Final rating: 4 drops!
A million thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with a free digital copy of this book. This did not, in any way, influence this review.
Do you want to read Optimists Die First? Share your thoughts in comments!
Susin Nielsen, Optimists Die First, Published by Andersen, March 2nd 2017.
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.