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Optimists Die First

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Life ahead: Proceed with caution.

Sixteen-year-old Petula De Wilde is anything but wild. A family tragedy has made her shut herself off from the world. Once a crafting fiend with a happy life, Petula now sees danger in everything, from airplanes to ground beef.

The worst part of her week is her comically lame mandatory art therapy class. She has nothing in common with this small band of teenage misfits, except that they all carry their own burden of guilt.

When Jacob joins their ranks, he seems so normal and confident. Petula wants nothing to do with him, or his prosthetic arm. But when they’re forced to collaborate on a unique school project, she slowly opens up, and he inspires her to face her fears.

Until a hidden truth threatens to derail everything.

240 pages, Hardcover

First published February 21, 2017

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About the author

Susin Nielsen

35 books566 followers
Susin got her start feeding cast and crew on the popular television series, Degrassi Junior High. They hated her food, but they saw a spark in her writing. Nielsen went on to pen sixteen episodes of the hit TV show. Since then, Nielsen has written for over 20 Canadian TV series. Her first young adult novel, Word Nerd, was published in 2008 to critical acclaim. It won multiple Young Readers’ Choice Awards, as did her second novel, Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom. Her third novel, The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, was published in August 2012. It went on to win the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award, the Canadian Library Association’s Children’s Book of the Year Award, and a number of Young Readers’ Choice Awards. Author Wally Lamb named it his top YA pick for 2012 in his “First Annual Wally Awards,” and recently Rolling Stone magazine put it at #27 in their list of “Top 40 Best YA Novels.”
Her books have been translated into multiple languages. Susin’s new novel, We Are All Made of Molecules, will be published in Canada, the US and the UK in Spring of 2015. She lives in Vancouver with her family and two naughty cats. She is delighted to have finally figure out how to "claim" her author profile on Goodreads!

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5 stars
1,161 (21%)
4 stars
2,139 (40%)
3 stars
1,541 (28%)
2 stars
370 (6%)
1 star
105 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 916 reviews
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,400 reviews11.7k followers
February 22, 2017
There is nothing original about this story. Nothing at all. You've read it before. You'll know the "twist" from the start.

But, some books with unoriginal plots just have more life in them. I liked the narrative voice, I liked the humor, the cats, the crafts, the characters.

Susin Nielsen must have a better book in her. Surely her charm can be applied to a better/newer story? I'll check out more of her writing.
Profile Image for Jen Ryland.
1,480 reviews900 followers
February 20, 2017
Serious mixed feelings. On the positive side, I really, really related to Petula's situation. A terrible family tragedy has made her fearful and wary. I'm not a therapist (and she's not real) but it seemed to me that her grief and guilt triggered (or worsened) some underlying anxiety/OCD - she's severely germaphobic and has intrusive thoughts about more bad things happening.

I'm not familiar with this author, but at times this book felt to me a little like a Canadian Sarah Dessen - troubled protagonist, troubled love interest, strong emphasis on family, and a very coherent and heavily thematic plot. There were lovely moments that charmed and moved me.

On the negative side, sometimes a book with a lot of themes can seem heavy-handed. At times I thought this book read a little younger than YA, but then it had sex scenes (very sex positive, though.)

The story centers around her art therapy group, which fits perfectly into the book's crafting theme but I kept wondering if glue and glitter was the extent of Petula's treatment? It seems to me she needed a "real" therapist and maybe even some medication.

The other issue I had with the story was the way that tragedy and whimsy was mixed together, which didn't always work for me. Petula's mother copes with tragedy by adopting a lot of cats, which I found alarming (I'm severely allergic) yet believable. The main character and the love interest are assigned to do a project together (of course!) and decide to make a movie about Wuthering Heights starring cats and then are angry that the teacher thinks their project is weird and disrespectful.

I think that was my main issue with this book - it has a tragicomic sensibility that didn't really resonate with me. I found it really jarring that the book would seem to be tackling a serious subject, like OCD or horrible, life-altering guilt, and then suddenly inject odd whimsy into things. Sometimes Petula's OCD would be dealt with sympathetically, but other times it seemed like it (and she) was being made fun of, like the fact that she keeps a scrapbook of strange, random ways that people have died. She's not compiling entries for the Darwin Awards -- she actually finds the randomness of life and death completely and utterly terrifying. Another time a character was telling a really moving story and then in the middle of it, felt compelled to mention that at the time of the story he was on his way to a bath store called ... Skip to My Loo. The mix of joking and seriousness might work for other readers with different sensibilities, but it was disconcerting to me.

Read more of my reviews on YA Romantics or follow me on Bloglovin
Profile Image for Helen 2.0.
283 reviews787 followers
April 23, 2023
A cute, short, easy story about unlikely teens coming together in unlikely ways. This is a coming of age story, if not a love story.

One of the characters comments on this—the ensemble cast feels like the Breakfast Club except slightly lamer, haha.

The plot centers around a group of variously traumatized high schoolers who have all been roped into mandatory group art therapy led by a counselor intent on making them do ridiculously childish projects. They all end up helping each other recover and heal in their own ways.

I’d recommend this book to young adults, for sure. It’s got a great message and characters who are strange enough to be entertaining but not so strange as to not still be relatable.
Profile Image for Aj the Ravenous Reader.
1,030 reviews1,044 followers
January 31, 2020
Some books you connect with so easily like they’re long lost friends and this book is certainly one of them. The book cover alone already attracted my attention like a magnet. There’s something so riveting about the title including the way it was written in cross stitch with that little addendum below that says “Life Ahead:Proceed with Caution”. It’s just so funny, smart, sarcastic and true all at the same time which is kind of also true of the entire story and not to mention quite heartbreaking too.

The plot centers around grief and how it relatively affects those afflicted. Some like Petula become pessimists who believe that they must live with caution and that there is no such thing as too much caution because freak accidents happen all the time and therefore her mantra that “Optimists Die First” does make sense. Others like David become optimists and try to see good in life because it’s short and one must live it to the fullest, that usual crap (lol!) and of course these characters’ paths cross certainly resulting to a clash albeit a positive one.

I thought it was written very well. It definitely appealed to my emotions. Petula’s grief is so palpable, I could honestly feel it. It’s exactly how she quoted it in the book, “like someone had put lead weights on my chest.” At the same time even if the theme is quite heavy, the author managed to make the story light because of the short chapters and her hilarious analogies and metaphors.

“He hurried away, like he’d just farted and didn’t want to be around to take the blame when it started to smell.”

Overall, it was a great, memorable read, another very recommendable YA contemporary and as always, my only complaint is it’s too short.
Profile Image for Ashley Daviau.
1,757 reviews753 followers
January 11, 2020
I picked this up on a whim at the library because the title made me laugh. Little did I know that behind the hilarious title was a brilliant story! I didn’t expect to have this tug at my heart strings like it did, it made me feel the full gauntlet of emotions. From crying to laughing to annoyance and everything in between, this book made me feel it. Something about Petula and her story just grabbed at me and wouldn’t let go, I felt like I was living out her grief and guilt with her and it made for a very powerful and beautiful read!
Profile Image for Inge.
347 reviews884 followers
February 8, 2017
Oh man, this book. I'm so glad I requested this book.

Optimists Die First is not a very long story, but that's not the only reason why I read it in one take. From the very first page, in which the author dedicates the book to her fellow crazy cat ladies, I was hooked. Even before that, when I read the title on NetGalley, I was hooked.

There were so many things where I felt like someone had cast a magnifying glass upon me and wrote a book about it: volunteering at a cat shelter and wanting to take every single cat home, having major anxiety and anxious thoughts about pretty much everything (although Petula did take it a step further than I did), and connections to Belgium are just a few reasons why I so much connected to the story. I could really relate, and this is why diversity in fiction is so important. I read mental health stories for awareness, but also to find comfort in the idea that I'm not alone.

I felt like the book only really grazed the surface of many issues dealt with, failing to go deeper, but that also allowed a certain lightness to stay on board despite all the heavy topics. Nevertheless, I really liked Optimists Die First. The cast was really diverse, it deals with a lot of powerful topics, and there were a lot of cats.

Thank you NetGalley / Penguin Random House UK Children's for providing me with a copy
Profile Image for Tink Magoo is bad at reviews.
1,248 reviews193 followers
February 17, 2017

Behind the cat poop, crochet vests, bionic arms and quirky array of characters this book had so much heart and I honestly feel like this could help a lot of people. Guilt can ruin people's lives and unless you've experienced that it's hard to understand.

There wasn't any teen drama or mean bitches, which makes a nice change in this genre. Every single one of the seemingly outlandish characters grew through the story and were made relatable thanks to the humorous writing. Even if you don't look as deep into this as much I did, it's still a funny age appropriate story.

I loved everything about it (but especially Petula).

*There IS sex in this book, but it is not descriptive*
Profile Image for maria.
563 reviews354 followers
April 8, 2017

An ARC of Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen was provided to me by Goodreads through their first reads program. This does not effect my opinion in any way.


Actual Rating: 3.5 Stars


This was the first ever book I have won through the Goodreads First Reads program and words cannot describe how excited I was when I was told that I had won! Optimists Die First had been a book that was on my radar for a little while and I was so excited that I was finally going to be able to read it! I hadn’t read anything by Susin Nielsen yet and I was hoping that this novel would be a great start for me to get into her writing!


What I Liked

The writing style. I really enjoyed the way this book was written. It was just a beautiful way of writing, I’m not really sure how else to explain it. It was fast paced and flowed really nicely.

The side-characters. I feel like I enjoyed reading about the side-characters more than I did about Petula. There was just something about them that was more compelling. Each of them had their own demons that they had to live with and it was great to slowly learn about them as the story moved forward. I would have really liked to learn more about them though. As mentioned, this story was very fast-paced and quite short in length, therefore it focused mostly on Petula and Jacob.

A touch of Canada. This story takes place in Vancouver, British Columbia and it also mentions little bits of Toronto, Ontario which was fantastic! It made little nods to all things Canadian, like timbits, the AGO and the ROM. It was fun to read something that takes place in the country that I’m from and to be able to pick up on little things like that.


What I Didn’t Like

Insta-love. Unfortunately, due to the quick pace and the short length of this novel, the romance between Petula and Jacob felt a little too insta-love for me. I understand that in reality spending all of this time together would probably have led to these two characters realizing that they had feelings for one another, but I just wish we could have seen it develop a little more.

Originality? I can’t say that this story felt very original for me personally. I have read a lot of books that deal with the social issues that are brought to life in this story, and while they are completely important topics and there should be many books, especially for teens, that deal with these topics…I just don’t think this one brought anything new to the table. It didn’t really “wow” me as much as some others have.


While Optimists Die First a tad underwhelming, I can see why so many people love the writing of Susin Nielsen. It really was written beautifully and I can’t wait to get my hands on some of her other work!


Initial post reading thoughts:

I really enjoyed this book! It was a quick and fast paced read that I breezed through fairly quickly and I had no idea it was going to take place in Canada so that was an added bonus! While this book was a quick one, it also managed to deal with quite a few different important social issues. I enjoyed each of the characters and their friendships with one another!
Profile Image for Maddie.
557 reviews1,136 followers
December 15, 2017
This book was short, sweet, and a teeny-tiny bit heartbreaking. It reminded me of Jeff Zentner's work, and that is literally the highest praise coming from me. Petula was a really cool character, with her love of craft, all her phobias and the masses of cats that spill from the pages.

The one issue I had with Optimists Die First, (and it's not even an issue really, because I didn't enjoy the book any less), is that the characters seemed like they were 12-13 years old in one chapter, and 17 the next. If this was classified as a Middle Grade, I may have loved it even more, but the relationship between Petula and Jacob felt very mature in comparison.

I really liked how each character's mysterious past and hidden secrets were unravelled, and how it's mostly a story of learning to live with what's happened in your past, in order to be optimistic about the future! Would recommend!
Profile Image for Grace (BURTSBOOKS).
153 reviews354 followers
January 11, 2018
Optimists die first is a forgettable, unoriginal, tropey YA romance. I would give a synopsis but I can barely remember a thing about what went down in this book. Maybe that’s my fault for waiting over a month to write a review but isn’t the point of a book to leave a lasting effect?

I usually write reviews 6 months later and I’ve literally never had this problem before. I don’t have a photographic memory or anything, those other books were simply just doing their job better.

When I was reading this I didn’t think it was a particularly bad book I just felt like I’ve read it a million times before. The 'boy fixes girl' trope is over done and annoyingly offensive and unrealistic, not to mention it’s been done in more captivating ways.

I wouldn’t recommend this one, solely because there are so many other books to be reading.

P.S. The cats were good. I liked the cats.


Yeah, hi. So I’ve been thinking a lot about anxiety lately. Or more importantly anxiety rep and how it sucks.

Before I started researching anxiety rep in books I didn’t even realize this book was considered a “mental health” book. Apparently this is a book about anxiety. Which yes on a base level I realized that the main character has some skewed quirky paranoia that is labeled as anxiety. I just didn’t realize this could actually be labeled as rep. I didn’t realize people who don’t have anxiety would go into this book expecting to have a better understanding of the illness after they were finished reading. I didn’t realize that I, as someone with anxiety was supposed to feel comforted and/or relate to this book. The anxiety in this book is a joke. Not as in it's written badly(which it is) but as in it is made into a joke. According to Susin Nielson, anxiety is apparently something quirky and relatable and fucking hilarious. Petula’s (the main character) unrealistic worries are made to be something outlandish and over dramatic and it is apparently supposed to be funny.

Like I said in my first review I don’t remember much about this book but I do remember Petula taking a different route to school to avoid a construction site every morning because she was worried about getting injured. This comes up several times in the book and eventually the love interest (of course) gets her walk by the construction site and she realizes how silly she was and blah blah blah. Petula’s fear of this construction sight is the joke. You are supposed to laugh at her and all the time she takes out of her day to make sure she doesn’t die while walking by. The reason I remember this specific part of the book so well is because I am that person. I’m the girl that will take the longer route to avoid a construction site or a particularly strange looking store or even just a strange looking tree and I found It really offensive that 1) this was made into a joke and 2) apparently walking by it fixed everything. I’ve walked by construction sites when I couldn’t avoid it, that doesn’t make the fear disappear and it didn’t fucking cure me. Petula’s anxiety is there simply as something quirky about her. This book isn’t even about her recovery. It isn’t her paranoia she has to get over it’s her tragic back story. If she gets over that than her anxiety will go away and she will be fixed.

Which is shit. Anxiety isn’t curable and I’m sick of YA authors pretending it is. No guy is going to change that. Someone telling me that I will be okay isn’t going to make me believe it no matter how good looking that someone is.

I’m not saying I can’t find humour in anxiety because sometimes I’m so unrealistically scared it’s hilarious. It’s okay to laugh at ourselves, sometimes that’s all you really can do but when someone else is making fun of that same thing it hurts. The thought of someone reading this book who doesn’t have anxiety or an understanding of it and laughing or thinking this is what anxiety is honestly makes me sick.

I don’t care about the story or if can remember any of it. This is what can be picked up from the first 30 pages. Anxiety is made in a joke of the back of the damn book. Even if this was a beautiful story and not an overdone trope it wouldn’t change the negative stereotypes it perpetuates and I’m so sick of it. I’m sick of mental health books written by people who have no idea what they’re talking about.

So yeah, this probably made no sense but I’m honestly too pissed to care. I’m changing this to 2 stars instead of 3. That’s all good bye.

**** I realize this is pretty harsh but as expressed I’m really annoyed. My experience’s with anxiety are of course not the be all end all of anxiety, so if you connected to this book in anyway please just ignore me. I’m happy that you’ve found something you can relate to. ****

For good rep of anxiety read They Both Die at the End or Six of Crows... yes Six of Crows... Kaz Brekker.. the legend... the myth.... the icon... his PTSD had me in tears. It was the most relatable thing I ever read about.
Profile Image for Erin Clemence.
1,052 reviews311 followers
December 22, 2017
Petula is a 16 year old girl who has shut herself off from the world after the death of her younger sister. Petula reluctantly attends counseling and art therapy classes with an eccentric group of misfits she feels she has nothing in common with. When Petula meets Jacob, the boy with the “bionic arm”, she slowly starts to trust again and begins to let the world back in. However, when she learns the truth about Jacob she is forced to decide if she can love a liar- even if the liar saved her life.

This is the premise of the novel, “Optimists Die First” by Canadian author, Susin Nielsen. Susin makes no apologies for being Canadian and waves her True North hard and proud throughout the novel (nods to Tim Horton’s, the sights and sounds of Toronto and- oh yeah- she used to work on the set of “Degrassi”. One cannot get more Canadian than that!) and I will give Ms. Nielsen full on props for that.

“Optimists” is a young adult novel about two teenagers who have suffered great loss and realize that they can heal themselves by being with each other. It is a premise done many times before (in fact, John Green has become quite successful with this) however this novel also has some creativity to it. Petula’s parental struggles are honest and real, and her on-again and off-again relationship with her former friend Rachel speaks to an understanding of the teenaged psyche.

This novel was short- I literally read it in a day and a half- but it also kept my interest through its entirety. I wished there had been more to the ending (it speaks to a sequel. How original. *sigh*) as I was left unfilled, however the characters were flawed and sassy without being overly petulant or whiny. Ms. Nielsen includes a wide array of multicultural characters, which adds a bit of realism to the novel as well. The author is definitely in touch with the adolescent mind, and has been able to make a great connection between characters and reader.

A great, quick read for fans of young adult fiction who are looking for a new author to watch!
Profile Image for Kirsty .
3,223 reviews329 followers
February 8, 2017
Oh man this book. I have never personally related to a character so much. Petula worries about everything making worst case scenerio plans for everything. I can so easily identify with this as I do the same all the time my logic being actually if I plan for the worst things are never actually going to end up as bad as I've planned for. Petula does take it to another level but I get her. I also love that she crafts and knits and spends her time making random quirky things to keep her busy. I love the relationship that develops with Jacob over the course of the book and how he helps to bring Petula back into the world after she shut so much out after the death of her younger sister. A beautiful ead about heartbreak and loss which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Profile Image for Melanie (TBR and Beyond).
509 reviews365 followers
February 20, 2018
“Either they were stupid, or they were optimists. Most likely both. "I will outlive you all," I muttered under my breath.”

Optimists Die First is quirky, funny and at times heartbreaking. I enjoyed this one much more than I had expected I would.

I've heard really mixed ones on this, I know some people think the mental illness rep is bad but I didn't personally feel that. I should start by saying that I have suffered from PTSD, depression and severe anxiety for a lot of my life, so I take mental illness rep seriously. However, I don't think everything needs to be serious, it can have a lighter way of going about telling the story and still be valid. I actually related to our main character, Petula fairly well. She had been through a trauma when she lost her baby sister and now she is overly paranoid and has a phobia about death/illness. She is not really dealing with any of her issues and doesn't really have any friends until she joins an Art Therapy class and basically meets her people. She might find a pretty adorable love interest in the class as well.

One of the complaints I've heard is that Petula is seen as just a quirky girl and people love her for it. That's just not true - she has no friends and has ruined the one real friendship she had. There aren't people tripping over themselves to hang out with this girl and they aren't in the end either. It just happens that she goes to a class where she meets other people that are struggling. No, they aren't struggling with the same subjects but they have isolated themselves and been outcasted in some way. That made complete sense to me and gave me some hope for kids that are going through these kind of things.

I loved Petula's sense of humor, most people you meet that struggle with mental illness will likely make some pretty sarcastic and dark jokes about things. They are allowed, they earned it. It's how you survive, it's not being disrespectful and it's not making light of anything. I appreciated seeing that side of the character and again rang really true to me.

Yes, there are some maybe less realistic things but this is still a story and the plot has to move along. I adore the relationship that blossomed between Petula and Jacob. It made me root for them so hard. They were very flawed characters but their relationship seemed so real and genuine.

This book isn't totally light though, there are moments in this book that broke my heart slightly. The ending wasn't hearts and roses - it was uncertainty but again that felt more realistic. The only reason I rated this four stars and not five is because the constant mention of cat poop drove me nuts lol I know that is being picky but I can't only read about it so many times!! I recommend checking this one out and seeing if it relates for you at all. It's very short, so you'll have no trouble knocking this book out in a couple of hours.
Profile Image for Maha.
259 reviews200 followers
March 1, 2017
i received a free digital copy thanks to the publisher + netgalley. this does not affect my point of view in any way.


i'm just...no.

there were many reasons why i decided to DNF (or DO NOT FINISH) this book. first of all, i appreciate the plot having all the mental illness representation, but i felt from the first page that it was going to be romanticized. anxiety here felt too forced, and it didn't seem like it was going to have any role in the story.

not only that but the plot felt a little...too fast. like, even after 1254 things happening in the book, i still can't remember the main character's name.

also, there was this:
"Alonzo was in Crafting for Crazies because he tried to kill himself after he came out to hist ultra-religious family and they kicked him out of the house."

and then a little after:
"Koula scowled.'Shut up, you fag.'
'Eat me, you skank.'
Then they started laughing. Alonzo pulled her close and hugged her. I could not begin to understand their friendship.

ummm...excuse me?

i can't EVEN imagine someone getting kicked out of the house after coming out to his parents, entering YOUNG ART THERAPY (which is a little therapy club in the book), and certainly getting called insults from other people at his school, would be okay with him being called "fag" (let's not forget that they were FRIENDS and they were LAUGHING). this is so...problematic?
i'm sorry (not really), but after that i couldn't even finish the chapter. i'm just no no no.
Profile Image for Kels.
315 reviews165 followers
June 26, 2017
Certainly not the worst YA book I've picked up, but I still found it mediocre in every way. I wasn't a fan of the writing style, all the characters fell flat for me, and the overall execution, I thought, was uninspired and lackluster. I'm aware that Susin Nielsen is far from being an amateur writer, so I'm surprised at how "debut novel" this came off to me.

Profile Image for Caitlin (thebookshire).
236 reviews3 followers
March 14, 2017
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.

There 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.

Find me and my reviews on www.thebookshire.com and on instagram.
Profile Image for Laurie • The Baking Bookworm.
1,403 reviews368 followers
March 30, 2017
3.5 STARS - Last year I was introduced to Canadian author Susin Nielsen's work when I read We Are All Made of Molecules (a truly fabulous, hilarious, heart-felt book which I highly recommend). When I heard that she had a new book out it was a no-brainer that I'd do anything to get my hands on a copy.

In Optimists Die First, Nielsen focuses her story on Petula who suffers from such a high level of anxiety that she worries about everything. The reason for her heightened anxieties are slowly revealed to the reader but meanwhile she tries to cope the best ways she can - which include participating in a peer support group and its quirky, diverse group of characters who form a unique bond with each other.

The first half of the book I was taken in by the characters and witnessing Petula's daily struggle with her multiple phobias. But the second half, where 'teen love conquers all', held my attention less. Petula's severe and multiple anxieties seemed to be lessened not as much by therapy but by the love of a good man and I take issue with that. Petula also seemed to overcome her deep-seated anxieties a little too easily and with this being a rather short book there wasn't page time to delve deeper into some of the teen anxiety issues that were raised. That's a shame because Nielsen approaches teen issue with such sensitivity.

Overall, this was a good read. It touches on serious topics that affect today's teens - teen mental health, grief, guilt, loss, teen sex (in a very positive way), friendship - all with a cast of quirky, off-beat characters and some good twists for the reader.
Profile Image for Fernanda Núñez.
Author 1 book1,412 followers
July 22, 2019
Ciertamente este libro se gana la medalla a las historias menos cautivadoras que he leído en toda mi vida...

Cuando leí la sinopsis dije "OK este será un libro que me hará reflexionar acerca de la vida" , pero simplemente no fue asi.

Los personajes no tenian un papel tan profundo en sus vidas, no había algo en su pasado que dijera "son así por esta razón" no... todos eran completamente sencillos y vacíos, no habia un punto quiebre emocional.

Si nos enfocamos en como narra la escritora esta historia... pensaba "¿En verdad un adulto escribió esto? ¿Me están tomando el pelo?"

La verdad es que parecía una novela de Wattpad... ¡OJO! no estoy desprestigiando las historias de esa plataforma, pero... dude, seamos realistas. Todas las historias estan escritas por jovenes para jovenes. Y aquí solo vi a una mujer tratando de escribir como si nos entendiera.

Y de repente ¡PUM! los problemas son tan sencillos de resolver, con una simple platica y listo, borrón y cuenta nueva. NO HONEY.

Y algo que no me dejaba de dar vueltas en la cabeza... ¿Porqué los adultos eran tan berrinchudos como adolescentes? Todo el tiempo se la pasaban lloriqueando como niños pequeños... bah.

Y no se hable del final, fue tan decepcionante y vacío al no ver algún cambio en la psicología de ambos personajes.

Y GRAN DETALLE, en la biografía de la escritora dicen que es "LA JONH GREEN CANADIENSE"... mmmm ciertamente la escritura no le llega.


Profile Image for Stacee.
2,709 reviews703 followers
February 7, 2017
I was instantly intrigued by the title and cover, but once I read the synopsis, I was sold.

Petula is quirky. I was 100% on board with her scrapbook and obsessions, even though they weren't healthy. There are a lot of odd characters, but they're all genuinely good people that I was easy to root for them.

The plot was engaging and I was definitely waiting for the other to drop. And sure, the constant mention of cat poop and crocheted items were something I could have done without, yet somehow it all worked.

Overall, it was a little heartbreaking, a little funny, and a whole lot of weird and a whole lot of heart.

**Huge thanks to Wendy Lamb books and NetGalley for providing the arc free of charge**
Profile Image for Farren.
667 reviews66 followers
September 17, 2018
I checked this audiobook out from my library thinking it was on my TBR when it actually wasn't. I'll consider it a happy accident, because it turned out to be pretty interesting and it only took a few hours to listen to. The characters were anything but cookie cutter and it's not often you read a YA book centered around the effect of long term guilt. I'd recommend it for a quick contemporary read.
Profile Image for Pinky.
507 reviews352 followers
January 15, 2018
It's been a long while since I have read an actual book/written a review. School has taken over my life, I spend most of my days stressed out and studying.

Luckily, I managed to read this in between my classes. This is my fourth year in the book club called White Pine at my school, and this is one of the books that are in that club. Optimists Die First was an entertaining read, but it definitely wasn't one of my favourites. It didn't leave an impression on me, it wasn't very different from other YA contemporary novels that I have read and the plot was very predictable. That being said, I still had moments where I laughed.

Most of the time though, I felt like this:

This book is about a pessimistic girl named Petula who chose to shut herself out from the world after a terrible tragedy that took place in her family. After meeting Jacob, she slowly starts to open up and think that life isn't as bad as she though. But Jacob has secrets of his own that he is hiding from Petula, making him untrustworthy. Is he really as good as he perceives himself to be?

“Okay, even if we disagree on that point, we still need to keep living our lives, don't we?...” />

I really liked Petula as a character at first because I related to her in so many different ways. Petula and I think alike, we are very cautious outside of our homes. Whenever I am walking on the streets and I see people listening to music on the streets, I feel scared for them. What if they can't hear the sound of a horn when a car is about to hit them? I have recently started listening to music on the streets but my music volume is very low, so that I am aware of my surroundings. I feel like everyone around me is out to get me, so I stay away from as many people as possible, avoiding conversations and eye contact. Sometimes I'll hide in the washroom, wait everyone clears the hallway at my school and then head to class. I know it's weird, but it's nice to read about a character who does the same things that I do. I would laugh at the ridiculous things that Petula would say, but at the same time I get why she is the way that she is. Jacob was an okay character, he was very outgoing and helped Petula out a lot. But I found his "back-story" or "mysterious past" to be very predictable. I knew why he was hiding his past because it must have been something that portrays him in a negative light.

I was waiting for the big plot twist/story, hoping that I was wrong, but I was right. And I sat in class while my mind was going crazy, screaming "THAT'S IT?!"

I felt that Jacob should not have played a HUGE role in Petula's transformation. It's such a cliche in YA novels to have a girl who is broken and then suddenly, a good-looking boy takes interest in her and helps her change and helps fix her. I don't know, I hate this trope and when my friend described this book, I knew instantly that I wasn't going to love this book. I did find it to be a quick read, even though I was interrupted a multiple amount of times.

But there's nothing I can do about it -_-

Anyway, I did enjoy this book but it was very predictable and had a lot of YA tropes. Since I have read many YA novels, I am getting tired of seeing the same thing in every contemporary book that i read. I have been in a huge reading slump and one part of that is because of my studies, but the other is probably because of the fact that I am hesitant about picking up novels because I don't want to be disappointed. Anyway, I'll be off again, and hopefully I'm back with more reviews. I'm really sad because it's another year and I haven't finished my reading goal. :(
Profile Image for Eloise.
593 reviews238 followers
June 9, 2018
I can't show much respect to a book when it starts saying that making a friend or having a boyfriend suddenly cures a mental disorder...

Not only does that clearly appear in the way Petula starts not being afraid of her fears anymore, for no other reason than the fact she has a boyfriend... But there are actual phrases like "you were weird before him", "broken", "he changed you - in a good way" (I didn't read it in English so these aren't exact quotes but similar). Just because she has (had?) OCD and generalised anxiety disorder? And she doesn't have as many tics anymore? She's now a "better" person?

All this, said within a group for teenagers with mental health issues. And a professional counselor. And it was never mentioned that that kind of mentality is NOT the way to handle it? Eeerm... Nope.

I also felt angry at the fact that every single person in this group of 'Art therapy' had to explain their mental health issue based on some tragic event... Sometimes, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues exist even without some huge tragic explanation... It just exists. And it sucks, but it just exists. WHY DID THIS STORY EVOLVE AROUND A GROUP OF KIDS WITH MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES IF YOU CAN'T REPRESENT IT IN A GOOD WAY???

Okay, you want to hear good things about the book? It has cats. Loads of cats. Cat hats. Cat videos. Cats. It gets a bonus star for that.
Profile Image for Macarena Yannelli.
Author 1 book955 followers
July 5, 2017
Fue difícil conectar con la protagonista de esta historia, pero si fue fácil conectar con su grupo de amigos y aprender a quererla a través de ellos.
Todos estos chicos tienen algún problema y juntos intentarán mejorar, mientras, la protagonista comienza a descubrir cosas sobre el chico del grupo que le gusta.
Profile Image for Madison.
1,065 reviews59 followers
December 22, 2016
Optimists Die First is a mildly depressing book. It has an honest and gritty tone, so realistic of the circumstances in which the characters find themselves. This in-your-face honesty is perfect for the theme of this book - trust, family, and somehow coping with the guilt of mistakes that shake your world. This book also involves an abundance of cats, cat videos, and crafting addictions - you have been warned.

Petula knows death is lurking around every corner. She is a pessimist and she knows her vigilance will keep her alive longer. She wasn't always like this. She wishes she had been, because then her baby sister might still be alive. She carries the weight of this tragedy, trying to keep her family from fracturing further. She has been assigned to the school's art therapy, where a miss-matched group of teens are meant to express their fears and troubles through juvenile art projects. But Jacob, a new addition to the group, shakes them up, gives them a boost of creativity, and might even bring them together.

I can totally understand Petula's fear and desire to control her environment. Who wouldn't after feeling to blame for her baby sister's death. Petula has a unique voice. I liked her upfront nature and honesty. I liked watching the development of her relationships with those around her, from her fellow therapy members, parents and ex-best friend to the school principal, and can I note here that I love seeing a positive representation of a principal in YA fiction. I felt for Petula in her family situation, her fear that it was up to her to hold them together.

The art therapy group is a vibrant cast of hurting characters. Their journey through hatred and misunderstanding to a cohesive group is a pleasure to read, bumps and detours included.

Petula and Jacob bond over shared stories of tragedy and cat videos. They make an odd match, the girl who sees death everywhere and in everything and the boy who is optimistic despite everything he has experienced. But Jacob is hiding some big secrets, I'll say no more here for fear of spoilers, but their romance challenges Petula to engage once again with life.

This honest and heartfelt story of tragedy and mental health is a worthy addition to realistic YA fiction and well worth reading.

The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.

Find more reviews, reading age guides, content advisory, and recommendations on my blog Madison's Library.
Profile Image for Alicia.
39 reviews1 follower
March 31, 2018
"Optimists believe things will always work out for the best. Optimists live in a rainbow-coloured, sugar-coated land of denial. Optimists miss warning signs. "

This book is a super cute, sad and easy read. No matter whether you're an optimist or a pessimist, give this book a go!

I've owned one of Susin Nielsen's other novels, 'We Are All Made of Molecules', for quite a while now. After finishing this book, i can't wait to read it!!
Profile Image for Shannon (It Starts At Midnight).
1,144 reviews1,009 followers
February 28, 2017
You can find the full review and all the fancy and/or randomness that accompanies it at It Starts at Midnight
Most of this book was awesome. This was unputdownable- I read the entire thing without even getting up once. That is not something that ever happens, but I was just so into this book that I couldn't stop. Plus it is shorter, and paced well, so that helps. Anyway, let's move onto the good stuff, shall we?

What I Liked:

First, Petula isn't at the most severe end of her mental illness- she's clearly still struggling, but she isn't at her worst; she's already begun to heal a bit. I think that's important to note. I do think that her anxieties and her fixations were quite realistically depicted. She thought things during the book that I had to stop and think "wow, so I am not the only one who thinks that too!", and frankly, it made me feel less alone.
To that end, the humor in the book was really great. I know not everyone will agree with that, but I think that Petula was far enough along in her recovery process that the humor really worked in the story. It made the dark moments a little less painful, and I think it really brought the therapy group together, too. Had they not been willing to share those weird moments, they may never have ended up being close- and that helped them all, really. And the characters in the therapy group were all quite wonderful, too. They all were well fleshed out, diverse, and brought a lot of insight to the group and to Petula.
I thought the family dynamic was well portrayed and quite honest . These people have been through absolute hell. They care about each other, but they also each have their own demons. I loved how much both parents clearly cared about Petula, even though they weren't always perfect and dealing with their own stuff. Petula had a defined, healthy relationship with each of her parents, and that to me was a huge win.
The romance was fun, and I liked it, for the most part. We'll get into why I didn't fully in a minute, but at the start, I did enjoy it. Jacob was funny, and he really created a sense of camaraderie in the therapy group. Plus, their relationship eventually lead Petula to have some very positive sex talk moments with her mom, which is definitely refreshing. In fact, during the book, I didn't really see Jacob as "curing" Petula, he just happened to be a good influence in her life at a time that she was already kind of on a precipice of change for herself.

What I Didn't:

So here we are. The "one thing" I couldn't get past in the book. I will tell you what it is, but I can't go into details unless it is under a spoiler tag. So anyway, at some point, Jacob enters the "savior" role. I hadn't seen him in that capacity, but apparently, he was. Now, I will explain further, but it's spoilery, so read at your own discretion.

The significant other as a savior thing has always bothered me, especially in mental health books, because I just can't get past the message that it could send, especially to someone who is suffering from a mental illness. I'd never want someone to think that they're doomed to be suffering forever because some cute love interest didn't waltz into their life. 

Bottom Line: I am really torn here. I loved this book. Until this one thing, it was headed to a really high rating. I won't completely trash the rating, especially for just this one fault (though for me personally, it is quite a bit one).
Profile Image for Buchdoktor.
1,813 reviews124 followers
August 25, 2021
Petula hat Angst vor Bakterien, Verkehrsunfällen, fremden Toiletten, Bakterienübertragung beim Händeschütteln und allem was sonst noch schiefgehen kann. Wer grundsätzlich pessimistisch denkt, müsste eine höhere Lebenserwartung haben als Menschen, deren Glas stets halb voll zu sein scheint, davon ist Petula überzeugt. Seit dem Tod ihrer kleinen Schwester, an dem sie sich schuldig fühlt, schützt sie sich durch Zwangshandlungen. Wer ständig unter Stress steht, kann seine Emotionen schwer steuern – und so wird Petula als Dauergast beim Direktor immer öfter wegen ihrer Impulsivität ermahnt. Da ihr Rektor ein kompetenter und fürsorglicher Mann ist, hat er ihr außerdem die Kunst-Therapie-AG der Schule empfohlen. Selbstmordgedanken, Tod eines Elternteils, auch die anderen Teilnehmer brauchen Hilfe, um ihre Schuldgefühle zu bewältigen. Als Jacob neu an die Schule und in die Therapie-Gruppe kommt, sind die Jugendlichen verblüfft: er trägt eine High-Tech-Hand-Prothese. Der Neue hat Erfahrung als routinierter Filmer, zur Begeisterung aller - bis auf den Englischlehrer. Petula jedoch kann Jacob nur schwer vertrauen. Alles, was er über sich erzählt, kennt sie aus Büchern und Filmen; Jacobs Identität scheint komplett erfunden zu sein. Schlimmer noch, als Tochter von Buchhändlern muss sie Jacob darauf hinweisen, dass das Buch meistens besser ist als der Film. In den Sozialen Medien scheint Jacob nicht zu existieren – und er verweigert strikt das Hochladen seiner Filme mit seinem Namen als Regisseur. Was verheimlicht Jacob? Als zwischen Petula und dem Neuen eine zarte Liebe zu wachsen beginnt, eskalieren die Dinge.

Susin Nielsens taktvolle Art über Probleme zu schreiben, die ihren Figuren mehr als peinlich sind, bewährt sich auch in diesem Jugendroman. Nach einem Streit mit ihrer allerbesten Freundin und mit Eltern, deren Beziehung zu kriseln beginnt, hat es Petula nicht leicht. Auf mich als Leser verdient ihr Rektor den Preis für die beste Nebenrolle; denn er hakt geduldig immer wieder nach, wie es seiner Schülerin geht und scheint genau zu wissen, was ihr hilft
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