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Optimists Die First
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Optimists Die First
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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....
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....
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Description-

  • 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:
    Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year
    “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

Excerpts-

  • From the book

    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...

About the Author-

  • Susin Nielsen 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 she has written for many Canadian TV series.

    Nielsen’s first two young adult novels, Word Nerd and Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom, won critical acclaim and multiple young readers’ choice awards. The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen won the prestigious Governor General’s Literary Award and the Canadian Library Association’s Children’s Book of the Year. Most recently, We Are All Made of Molecules was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award, longlisted for the Carnegie Medal, and nominated for the Canadian Library Association’s Children’s Book of the Year. Nielsen lives in Vancouver with her family and two extremely destructive cats. Visit her at susinnielsen.com; on Facebook at Susin Nielsen, Author; and on Twitter at @susinnielsen.

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.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from November 1, 2016
    Consumed with guilt over the death of her baby sister, a girl struggles simply to get through each day.Sixteen-year-old Petula blames herself for her sister's death, and perhaps as a result, she has developed a wide range of fears, even tracking freak deaths in a scrapbook. Her parents also struggle. Her mom is becoming an uncontrolled cat lady, with the current total at six. Her dad struggles to pay the bills, buy the cat food, and live despite his sadness. Forced to attend a group art-therapy class for emotionally disturbed teens, Petula meets Jacob, who lost his arm in a car crash that killed his two best friends and now has a prosthetic hand of which he is quite proud. At first she spurns him, but she's forced to work with him on a project, and the two eventually begin what appears to be a real romance. Jacob is a talented filmmaker, and they make a hilarious cat video, then more films that successfully help them recover from their anxieties. Yet despite appearances, it may be that Jacob's problems are worse than Petula's. Nielsen writes with sensitivity, empathy, and humor, believably lightening Petula's constant efforts to cope. Every character (most evidently white) comes across as a unique human being, however minor the part. Another lovely outing from Nielsen. (Fiction. 12-18)

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from November 1, 2016

    Gr 9 Up-Vancouver teenager Petula de Wilde is aware that her personality is the very opposite of her last name. Since her sister died two years earlier, Petula constantly washes her hands, avoids construction sites (lest she get killed by falling stray metal), and scours the Internet for articles on random and accidental deaths to add to her scrapbook. She no longer pursues her many (more optimistic) craft projects, nor does she speak to her former best friend. Things begin to change after a new boy with a prosthetic arm shows up in her mandated art therapy classes. Jacob is gregarious, confident, and determined to make Petula come out of her shell. His enthusiasm for life and his ability with a camera pull them together and allow them both to heal, but is Jacob all that he seems? Will Petula and the other art therapy students be able to help Jacob as much as he has helped them? Nielsen has created a compelling, precociously paranoid protagonist and a bevy of wisecracking, heartwarming characters. But perhaps the novel's greatest strength is its handling of the characters' very real burdens with sympathy, wit, and not an ounce of melodrama. Nielsen excels at depicting troubled, clever teenagers in familiar environments. VERDICT Readers who are looking for a darker, more urban, but similarly hopeful Sarah Dessen novel will find it in this poignant book.-Evelyn Khoo Schwartz, Georgetown Day School, Washington, DC

    Copyright 2016 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    December 1, 2016
    Grades 8-12 Petula is a pessimist or, as she prefers to view it, prepared. She knows stats on freak deaths and is taking precautions to make sure another tragedy like her sister's death never sneaks up on her again. When Jacob shows up in her art therapy group, she couldn't be less interested. Yet, Petula's attitude begins to change when she's paired with him for a school project, and she finally allows herself to open up to someone again. Their romantic relationship is sweet but underdeveloped, making the strongest aspect of the story the growth seen in the quirky, yet endearing, misfits of Petula's art therapy group. Readers will be captivated by Petula's journey, as she tries to overcome her grief-driven obsessions and anxieties and reconnects with her friends, family, and hobbies. Heartbreaking and hopeful, this is a solid choice for readers looking for a book to make them cry and laugh at the same time. Recommend to teens who enjoyed Tamara Ireland Stone's Every Last Word (2015).(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2016, American Library Association.)

  • Kirkus Reviews, Starred "Nielsen writes with sensitivity, empathy, and humor."
  • School Library Journal, Starred "Nielsen excels at depicting troubled, clever teenagers in familiar environments."
  • Publishers Weekly, Starred "Grief and guilt permeate Nielsen's (We Are All Made of Molecules) empathic and deeply moving story, balanced by sharply funny narration and dialogue."
  • Quill and Quire, Starred "The dialogue is effortless, the plot moves at a fast pace, and the scenes come alive. . . . a poignant exploration into the nuances of healing."
  • Booklist "Heartbreaking and hopeful, this is a solid choice for readers looking for a book to make them cry and laugh at the same time."
  • Canadian Children's Book News "Susin Nielsen once more brings readers a story that is infused with light-hearted humour, even as it touches on numerous weighty issues."

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    Random House Children's Books
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