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Posted & filed under Children's Book Reviews

Grieving over the accidental death of her little sister Maxine, Petula (Tula) faces anxiety daily. A crafter at heart, being in Youth Art Therapy (YART) is supposed to help Tula get back to her old self, but trying to keep things together at home and concentrating on preventing more accidents from happening takes all her energy. The arrival of the boy she calls “Bionic Man” (Jacob) changes the dynamic of the YART group, and his persistence helps Tula take risks. Buoyed at last by her new friendships and relationship, Tula finds the courage to face her grief and embrace hope again.

Taking an honest look at the power of reaching out, Optimists Die First explores the complexity of anxiety and grief when the worst has happened. Award-winning YA author Susin Nielsen once again excels at creating memorable, quirky characters with the unique members of YART, and offers in Tula a main character earnestly struggling with what she can and cannot control.

Nielsen also captures the variability of grief and the numerous ways we find to cope. While Tula strives to make sense of her situation through a scrapbook of other horrific, random accidents, Jacob helps the YART group to realise that dealing with grief requires creativity and being open-minded.

In typical Nielsen fashion, she uses humour to deal with difficult situations and hilarity ensues with Jacob’s explanations of his bionic arm, as with the antics of the YART group. The result is a heartfelt read about finding connection through shared experiences.

  • Optimists Die First

    By Susin Nielsen, Published by Wendy Lamb Books: Penguin Random House of Canada
    • ISBN 13: 978-0-553-496-901
Amy Mathers
An avid promoter of Canadian teen fiction, Amy Mathers completed the Marathon of Books in 2014. The money she raised allowed the Canadian Children’s Book Centre to fund the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award. She also reviews for the Canadian Children’s Book News and writes a monthly article for the CCBC e-newsletter.