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Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen
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Optimists Die First

by Susin Nielsen

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After the accidental death of her younger sister while in her care, Petula becomes the ultimate pessimist, always expecting the worst to happen to everyone. As part of her therapy, she must attend an art therapy group with other misfits. However, when Jacob joins the group things begin to change, resulting in some wonderful things happening to them all. It is a wonderful story about friendship, change and love. ( )
  Susan.Macura | Apr 23, 2017 |
Literary Merit: Good
Characterization: Great
Recommended: Highly Recommend
Level: High School

"Optimists Die First" is a mix between a comedy and a tragedy with it leaning more towards tragedy. Petula is a teenager who has developed a disorder for irrational fears as well as OCD. This transformation over the past two years was spawned by the death of her young sister, which she blames entirely on herself. Her parents and principal feel she needs help coming to terms with her guilt and grief and make her attend Art Therapy counseling at the high school. Through this group she meets Jacob, the new student at school who has a traumatic past and issues of his own. As Petula finally begins to come out of her shell, repair relationships and make new friends thanks mainly to Jacob's influence a secret is revealed that threatens to undo all of her progress. Petula must come to terms with her feelings for Jacob and whether she can forgive not only others, but also herself.

While, this book is quite sad at times it is a great coming of age story as well as a story of self discovery that may help any teenager going through the grieving process. It is a quick, witty, read with well developed characters who all have extremely interesting backstories and who can all stand on their own in this novel. Petula is definite the prime focus, but the supporting characters are all strong as well. This is definitely recommended for teens who are dealing with personal issues or even someone trying to understand the feelings of another person who is struggling with grief and self doubt. ( )
  SWONroyal | Apr 15, 2017 |
Susin Nielsen is always good for a great story. Here, a young woman lives her life in the safest manner possible until she meets a young man who encourages her otherwise. Always a heart-warmer from Nielsen. ( )
  Brainannex | Apr 3, 2017 |
Petula De Wilde Jacob Koula Ivan Alonzo
This is a breakfast club type group in art therapy together all working through something. Petula lost her younger sister and of course she thinks it's her fault (she choked on a button on a costume she made for her) & the parents are divorcing. Her love interest Jacob lost an arm and his friends died in a car accident. This is a good exploration of grief but I don't feel its bringing anything new to the table and I probably won't remember it 2 wks after reading it ( )
  krharder | Apr 2, 2017 |
As a result of the accidental death of her baby sister, which Petula thinks is her fault, Petula now sees dangers in everything. She even keeps a scrapbook of freak fatal accidents. Although this sounds quite tragic, her voice is raw, honest and unintentionally funny. She is an extremely believable and likeable character.
For example here is a description from page 5 of why the chair she's sitting in, in principal Watley's office, (after having fainted in class) is her favourite:
"It was my favourite because it was the farthest from his bookshelves, which were not secured to the wall in any way. Believe me, I checked. So if there was an earthquake - and in Vancouver they say it's a matter of when, not if - I could be badly injured by falling hardcovers. (I tried not to think about the building itself, which would collapse like a pile of Jenga blocks in any quake over a five point zero on the Richter scale. If I thought about that, I would have to leave school, and Vancouver, and live alone in a cave somewhere, which would crush my parents. Plus I would be a sitting duck for any psychopathic serial killer who happened past. And/or I would contract of respiratory illness because of the damp and die a slow, painful death. At least death by earthquake was more likely to be instantaneous.)"

And here on page 7 and 8 is an explanation for the books title. Petula is talking to her principal explaining why he will die before she will.
Mr. Watley thought for a moment. Then he pointed at a mug on his desk. "Look at that and tell me what you see."
"A half-empty mug of coffee."
"I see a half-full mug of coffee." He smiled triumphantly like he just said something profound.
"And that's why you'll die before I do."
He blinked a few times. "Well I hope so, I'm fifty-two, after all, and you're only fifteen- "
"Sixteen as of last week. But age aside, studies show that in general, optimists die ten years earlier than pessimists."
"I find that hard to believe."
"Of course you do, you're an optimist. You have a misguided belief that things will go your way. You don't see the dangers till it's too late. Pessimists are more realistic. They take more precautions."
"That seems like a sad way to govern your life."
"It's a safe way to govern your life."

I highly recommend this book for teens. The only caveat is that the main character does enter into sexual activity with one of the other characters, but in a very responsible and mature fashion involving both condom use and a brief written discussion with her mom about the need for birth control pills. ( )
  JRlibrary | Mar 12, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553496905, Hardcover)

Award-winning author Susin Nielsen has written a laugh-out-loud and heartrending novel for fans of Robyn Schneider’s Extraordinary Means and Cammie McGovern’s Say What You Will.
 
Beware: Life ahead.
 
Sixteen-year-old Petula de Wilde is anything but wild. A former crafting fiend with a happy life, Petula shut herself off from the world after a family tragedy. She sees danger in all the ordinary things, like crossing the street, a bug bite, or a germy handshake. She knows: life is out to get you.
 
The worst part of her week is her comically lame mandatory art therapy class with a small group of fellow misfits. Then a new boy, Jacob, appears at school and in her therapy group. He seems so normal and confident, though he has a prosthetic arm; and soon he teams up with Petula on a hilarious project, gradually inspiring her to let go of some of her fears. But as the two grow closer, a hidden truth behind why he’s in the group could derail them, unless Petula takes a huge risk. . .

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 08 Aug 2016 00:39:15 -0400)

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