Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen

If the title wasn’t enough, the ugly-sweater cover made this a must-read for me. I went in expecting a lot of dark humor and a host of quirky characters, and Optimists Die First did NOT disappoint. This is a very unique book with a whole host of strange little quirks, and I have to admit that I enjoyed pretty much every minute of it.

North-American-Optimists-CoverThere are going to be reviewers who have problems with this book, and I think that’s the case for almost any book dealing with mental illness, grief, and other heavy topics. I don’t think this is a perfect portrayal of mental illness in general, but I also understand that everyone’s journey and illness is different. Petula, for me, used humor as a shield, and it worked for her. Yes, she has a pretty extreme paranoia disorder, and I think that can come across as “fake” but I thought it felt authentic for her to be where she was at. She took her fears of losing those she loved and turned them onto things she could control (like avoiding construction sites or elevators or other “dangerous” things. Her character feels immature, but that was alright as she’s only 16 and I don’t think every YA book out there needs to have a teenage protagonist who thinks on a fully-mature-adult level. Her voice really worked for her, and it felt totally authentic to me.

Maybe I’m becoming a crazy cat-lady but I really enjoyed the cat-obsession Petula’s mom was using to deal with her grief. The fact that she just keeps bringing home cats really amused me, and I loved even more the fact that they named all the cats after book characters. Then, when Jacob and Petula start making literary videos starring said cats, it was just hilarious and perfect.

That being said, my biggest criticism of this book is that there is an inordinate amount of talk about cat-poop. I didn’t really understand why, and it wasn’t quirky so much as… weird? Sad? Strange? All of the above? I love my cats, but I never feel like talking about my cats’ poop to that degree. So, yeah… That was weird.

But other than that, I really loved this heartfelt little book… The characters are interesting, the love story builds slowly and wonderfully, and the storyline itself, while a lot lighter than I expected for so many serious topics, was welcome. A great book for anyone looking for a laugh and a feel-good read.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars 


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