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OPTIMISTS DIE FIRST by Susin Nielsen Kirkus Star


by Susin Nielsen

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-553-49690-1
Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Consumed with guilt over the death of her baby sister, a girl struggles simply to get through each day.

Sixteen-year-old Petula blames herself for her sister’s death, and perhaps as a result, she has developed a wide range of fears, even tracking freak deaths in a scrapbook. Her parents also struggle. Her mom is becoming an uncontrolled cat lady, with the current total at six. Her dad struggles to pay the bills, buy the cat food, and live despite his sadness. Forced to attend a group art-therapy class for emotionally disturbed teens, Petula meets Jacob, who lost his arm in a car crash that killed his two best friends and now has a prosthetic hand of which he is quite proud. At first she spurns him, but she’s forced to work with him on a project, and the two eventually begin what appears to be a real romance. Jacob is a talented filmmaker, and they make a hilarious cat video, then more films that successfully help them recover from their anxieties. Yet despite appearances, it may be that Jacob’s problems are worse than Petula’s. Nielsen writes with sensitivity, empathy, and humor, believably lightening Petula’s constant efforts to cope. Every character (most evidently white) comes across as a unique human being, however minor the part.

Another lovely outing from Nielsen.

(Fiction. 12-18)