Published by Wendy Lamb Books on February 21st 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Diversity, Romance, Young Adult
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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.
Optimists Die First is a really interesting contemporary read. I have some mixed feelings about it but I did enjoy it overall. The story follows Petula, who is a big pessimist and is kind of paranoid about everything after the tragic death of her younger sister not too long ago. She lives with her parents, who haven’t been getting along, and the cats that her mother keeps bringing home from the animal shelter that she volunteers at. But when Jacob shows up at her school and her art therapy class, Petula finds herself opening up to those around her and starting to live her life to the fullest again.
One of the main reasons for my mixed feelings about this novel is the ‘love cures all’ aspect of the story. As soon as Jacob comes into Petula’s life and starts having an influence on her, she suddenly loses all of her pessimistic tendencies and stops worrying about all of the things that previously worried her to the point where it significantly interferes with her life. But at the same time, I do understand that there are certain people who come into our lives and become the impetus for change. I really liked the role that Jacob played in Petula’s life so I’m a little torn about it. My other main criticism with the story was that I felt like there wasn’t enough attention to and focus on the mental health aspects of the novel. Petula has been struggling with grief and this has manifested in some problematic obsessions and anxieties, and I felt like this aspect was largely ignored in the book and played off as just quirkiness or ‘pessimism’. I did really like the art therapy sessions that Petula attended and she created a lot of friendships and relationships with those in her sessions but I would’ve loved a lot more focus on these mental health issues.
Having said that, I did really enjoy the plot of the book. There were many unexpected twists and turns and I didn’t find the book to be predictable. Jacob’s story was a bit of a mystery throughout the novel and it really kept me on my toes as I progressed through the novel. And on top of that, the book was just extremely entertaining and fun to read, and I finished it in just one short sitting. There were lots of fun moments, like Petula and Jacob making an adaptation of Wuthering Heights, starring Petula’s cats. And Petula knitting beagle beanies, and other articles of clothing for her friends at art therapy. It was a really enjoyable contemporary read.
I also loved the romance between Petula and Jacob and I thought their relationship was not only sweet but extremely supportive. Their interactions were adorable and I loved their progression from reluctant classmates to friendship to romance. It was really believable and I really appreciated how naturally their relationship developed. I also really liked Petula and Jacob individually. There were moments when I was really frustrated by Petula but, overall, I found her to be a likable and relatable character. I do have to say that I liked Jacob more though because of how human he was. We saw a lot of his flaws and I really connected with him because he seemed so real to me. What I loved most about this book was probably the friendships that Petula and Jacob developed with the other characters from their art therapy class. There were a lot of different characters all with their own problems and I enjoyed how much they came to rely on each other and support each other, despite their differences. It was really great to see these beautiful friendships come to life.
Optimist Die First was an interesting contemporary read. I found it to be really enjoyable and fun to read but had a few issues with the mental health representation. However, the friendships and relationships in the novel were beautiful, and were my favourite aspect of the novel.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
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