Review of Optimists Die First

Optimists Die First
by Susie Nielsen

To be published on February 21, 2017
by Random House/Wendy Lamb Books

Synopsis from Goodreads: 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. . .

Review of Optimists Die First

Serious mixed feelings. On the positive side, I really, really related to Petula. 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 anxiety has triggered or worsened some pre-existing OCD - she's severely germaphobic and has intrusive thoughts about more bad things happening.

At times this book felt to me a little like a Canadian Sarah Dessen - damaged protagonist, damaged love interest, a 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, the book's treatment of mental health issues seemed a little flimsy. The story centers around Petula's art therapy group, which fits perfectly into the book's cats-and-crafting theme but I kept wondering if glue and glitter was the extent of Petula's treatment? It seems to me she needs one-on-one time with a qualified 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 believable. But then the main character and the love interest make a movie about Wuthering Heights starring cats as a school project and ... what? 

While it later had a point in the plot, the whole thing lost me. There were other jarring moments for me, like the fact that some of Petula's coping mechanisms seem to be treated as a joke. At another point, a character is telling a really moving story and then has to mention that he was on his way to a bath store called ... Skip to My Loo. Stuff like that just felt like unnecessary quirk. The mix of joking and seriousness might work for other readers with different sensibilities, but it was disconcerting to me.

Have you read this?  


  1. I haven't read this one yet but I'm a fan of the author. I can already tell that I will be in the same boat as you, though. Mental disorders are tough subject matters and kudos to those who try to extrapolate on the subject. I'll try not to expect too much.

    1. VERY curious to see what you think. Not familiar with the author but would be willing to try another of her books to see...

  2. The author is local to me so I really want to try this one! "the main character and the love interest make a movie about Wuthering Heights starring cats as a school project" <- uh that is a little weird given mental illnesses should be treated with seriousness...

  3. I have a copy of this one but it isn't very high on my TBR. It sounds like there's a lot of good parts and some bad parts. I'm not sure how I would feel about the joking and seriousness. Great review!

  4. This is the first time I hear about this book. It sounds weird and I don't know if it's for me. I'll add it to my TBR though.
    Great review, Jen!


Post a Comment

Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope you will share your thoughts on this post!