OLA Forest Kid Committee Summer Reading List: Optimists Die First

July 17, 2017 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

By Natalie C., Reference & Digital Resources Librarian

The fourth in our blog series on the OLA Forest Kid Committee Summer Reading List. Selected by kids for kids, the list has 20 great books for students grades 5 through 8. Follow along on the blog as I attempt to profile as many books on the list as I can before the school year starts up again.

Next up: Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen.

The Haiku Review

OptimistsDieFirst“You oughtta look out” / Turned to “You only live once” / The key: trust and love

Major Players:

  • Petula De Wilde, the novel’s cautious heroine
  • Jacob Cohen, described as a “bionic man” who’s “just this side of handsome.” Jacob helps Petula face her fears.

One-Sentence Summary
Still trying to cope with a family tragedy that has left her fearful of everything, Petula finds a useful ally in the mysterious Jacob who forces her to step outside of her shell until a surprising revelation makes her question their friendship.

Authorial Anecdote
Susin Nielsen has written another book on the OLA Forest Kid Committee list: We Are All Made of Molecules. Both are marked by Susin’s excellent sense of humour and sprinkled with relevant pop culture references.

Tough Topics
Optimists Die First deals with death and grief, depression, divorce, mental illness, homophobia, alcoholism, drug use and drunk driving. It presents a refreshing depiction of sex and sexuality from the perspective of 16-year-old Petula whose first sexual encounter is safe and consensual. Petula talks to her mom about her experience and they go together to the doctor to get a birth control prescription. Petula also doesn’t shy away from her desire to have sex and the book alludes to masturbation.

Kids List Connections
Like Bent Not Broken, Optimists Die First features a protagonist grappling with the death of a sibling, and the guilt felt by the family members left behind. Both books also address the marital challenges faced by parents whose child has died or experienced trauma. In Bent Not Broken, Madeline’s parents divorce after an accident leaves her with brain damage. In Optimists Die First, Petula’s parents attend marriage counselling after her sister’s death.

Quick Quotes
“Mr Watley thought for a moment. Then he pointed at a mug on his desk.
‘Look at me 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’d just said something profound.
‘And that’s why you’ll die before I do’” (p. 7).

“I learned some lessons that day:
1. Life is not fair.
2. Tragedy can strike when you least expect it.
3. Always expect the worst. That way, you might stand a chance of protecting yourself and the ones you love” (p. 23).

What’d I think?
9/10 cats named after literary figures
Susin Nielsen has outdone herself. Optimists Die First is amazing — my favourite book on the OLA Kid Committee List so far. Petula DeWilde, the cat-loving, granny-dressing protagonist who wears a safety vest to go out with her friends and can’t shake someone’s hand without fully desanitizing, could easily have become a caricature. Instead, Nielsen draws the reader into Petula’s mind and fully outlines her motivations, allowing the reader to wholly identify with her circumstances. Even though the novel deals with some tough topics, Nielsen never lets things get too heavy. The book is also laugh out loud funny and all of the pop culture references are on point. To top it off, Nielsen crafts a totally believable love story and narrative of self-discovery that never comes off as trite. Definitely my kind of book

Check out the other posts in this series:
Month of Mondays
We Are All Made of Molecules
Every Hidden Thing
Bent Not Broken
And stay tuned for more posts on the OLA Kid Committee books!

 

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Summer Reading for Kids New study finds that teaching emotional intelligence can improve mental health

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