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ZAC AND MIA by A.J. Betts


by A.J. Betts

Age Range: 14 & up

Pub Date: Sept. 2nd, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-544-33164-8
Publisher: HMH Books

Desperate to reconnect with the outside world, teen bone marrow recipient Zac’s very precise mind is distracted by the arrival of new cancer patient Mia in the 4-by-5-meter room next to his.

A single rock track plays on repeat next door (“The newbie’s gone Gaga. The girl’s got cancer and bad taste?”) until Zac pounds on the wall, and a tense bond begins to form. Zac, now “99.9 percent someone else,” is a model patient with extended family support back home on an Australian farm. He tracks cancer deaths with grim dedication: “I don’t want them to die, but they make my odds look better. I have to believe in the math.” Mia—not a Gaga fan after all, it’s just parent repellent—tells her high school friends she’s just on vacation, rejects her mother and lets anger threaten her treatment. Surrounded by the uncertainty of illness, Zac works from “logic and math,” while Mia’s decisions are “whipped up by emotion and impulse and I want, I want.” Taking its cue from the title, the first-person account starts with Zac’s voice, alternates between Zac and Mia in the middle, then seamlessly switches to Mia for the finale, with snappy dialogue throughout. A brief epilogue provides satisfying and realistic closure.

Above average in this burgeoning subgenre; it’s the healing powers of friendship, love and family that make this funny-yet-philosophical tale of brutal teen illness stand out. (Fiction. 14 & up)