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Optimists Die First
Cover of Optimists Die First
Optimists Die First
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 threatens to derail them, unless Petula takes a huge risk. . .
Praise:
"Nielsen writes with sensitivity, empathy, and humor." —Kirkus Reviews, Starred

"Nielsen excels at depicting troubled, clever teenagers in familiar environments." —School Library Journal, Starred
"[An] empathic and deeply moving story, balanced by sharply funny narration and dialogue." —Publishers Weekly, Starred
"A poignant exploration into the nuances of healing." —Quill and Quire, Starred
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 threatens to derail them, unless Petula takes a huge risk. . .
Praise:
"Nielsen writes with sensitivity, empathy, and humor." —Kirkus Reviews, Starred

"Nielsen excels at depicting troubled, clever teenagers in familiar environments." —School Library Journal, Starred
"[An] empathic and deeply moving story, balanced by sharply funny narration and dialogue." —Publishers Weekly, Starred
"A poignant exploration into the nuances of healing." —Quill and Quire, Starred
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Excerpts-
  • From the cover

    1

    The first time I saw the Bionic Man I was covered in sparkles.

    It was a typical Friday afternoon at Youth Art Therapy, YART for short. I was trying to help Ivan the Terrible with our latest, lamest project. As per usual, Ivan refused to focus. Instead he tipped a tube of rainbow glitter onto my head, all over my cat hat and all over me. Alonzo tutted sympathetically. Koula snorted with laughter. Another sunny day in paradise.

    We were sitting in the common area of the counseling suite. It was always either Antarctica cold or Saudi Arabia hot. Even though it was early January, I'd stripped down to my tie-dyed tank top. Ivan started punching my bare arm with the very fingers that had, moments ago, been wedged up his nose. I reached into my tote bag for my bottle of hand sanitizer, just as one of the counselor's doors opened.

    Ivan glanced up. "Petula, look," he said. "A giant."

    The Bionic Man was not a giant. But he was well over six feet. Everything about him was supersized. A bright orange parka was slung over one arm, which was major overkill for a Vancouver winter. He looked about my age, with a mass of curly brown hair, and big brown eyes that were red from crying.

    The Bionic Man had stepped out of Carol Polachuk's office. I'd sat in that soulless space many times myself, forced to talk to she of the up with life! T‑shirts, bulgy eyes, and condescending attitude. Carol was very good at one thing, and that was making you feel worse. So I wasn't surprised that the Bionic Man looked disoriented. And angry. And deeply, terribly sad.

    I recognized those looks. The Bionic Man hadn't been in there for a chat about career options. You didn't see Carol Polachuk for the small stuff.

    He was one of us.

    For a brief moment, our eyes locked.

    Then he made a beeline for the doors.

    And he immediately left my brainpan as I started slathering myself in hand sanitizer.

    The End.

    Except . . . it wasn't.

    2

    On Monday afternoon I saw him again.

    I stood at the front of history class in my presentation outfit: plain white shirt with purple crocheted vest, my favorite peasant skirt, and purple rubber boots that hid my lucky striped socks. I was midway through my talk. The assignment: discuss a historical event that has ripple effects to this day.

    I'd chosen September 11, 2001. Nine-eleven, the day two airplanes, hijacked by terrorists, flew into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. I meant to talk about the political aftermath, and the many ways it changed how we view personal safety.

    But I never made it that far.

    A lot of people on the floors below the point of impact were able to escape down stairwells before the towers fell. But the people above the impact must have understood that they were doomed, that no one was coming to rescue them because, well, how could they? Those towers practically rose into the stratosphere.

    I thought about those people a lot. How their days started out so normal. How they were average, regular humans; just like me, just like Mom and Dad, just like anyone. I pictured a guy wondering if it was too early to dig into his lunch, because even though it was only just past nine, he was already hungry. I imagined a woman who couldn't stop worrying about her son because he'd cried that morning when she dropped him off at day care.

    They were expecting a day like any other.

    That part of...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from December 5, 2016
    The accidental death of Petula de Wilde’s younger sister, Maxine, has fractured her family, perhaps irrevocably. Her parents are retreating into their passions for books, music, and cats; Petula, who blames herself for Max’s death, has adopted the attitude that “tragedy can strike when you least expect it” and worries constantly about earthquakes, walking past construction sites, shaking hands, and catching rare diseases. Petula’s anxieties have landed her in youth art therapy (YART) at school, where she gets to know new student Jacob Cohen, a talented filmmaker with a bionic hand and his own tragic past. Grief and guilt permeate Nielsen’s (We Are All Made of Molecules) empathic and deeply moving story, balanced by sharply funny narration and dialogue. “It’s like a twisted version of The Breakfast Club,” says Jacob of YART, whose members struggle with bullying, substance abuse, and anger. Readers will be riveted by Petula’s rocky attempts to repair damaged relationships with her parents and a friend she drove away, connect with the members of YART, and open herself up to the idea of romance with Jacob. Ages 12– up. Agent: Hilary McMahon, Westwood Creative Artists.

  • AudioFile Magazine Narrator Julia Whelan expresses this YA heroine's sardonic tone so well that 16-year-old Petula risks becoming an unlikable character. Thankfully, Whelan is also expert at conveying the story's witty tone, Petula's fragility, and the chemistry she has with Jacob, "the bionic man." That chemistry doesn't begin well. Though Jacob seems comfortable with his prosthetic, Petula's been insular and phobic since the death of her baby sister. Whelan's delivery of dialogue brings out the similarities in Petula's and Jacob's sarcasm, disguised vulnerabilities, and hidden guilt. When a shared project brings them together and they gradually open up to each other, Whelan depicts their developing love, trust, and discord. Whelan also portrays minor characters' unique traits, preventing them from being flat characters who merely represent issues. In this coming-of-age story, Whelan balances grief and heartbreak with humor and hope. S.W. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award � AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine
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Optimists Die First
Optimists Die First
Susin Nielsen
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