Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 12 to 18
- Grade: 7 to 12
This touching, hilarious tragi-comedy by award-winning author Susin Nielsen proves: Life is out to get you. But so is love. A quirky alternative to the "sick lit" genre for YA readers.
Petula's funny, and a crafting genius, but no social star at high school, and it doesn't help that she's isolated herself after her adored toddler sister died. Petula feels responsible for this death, though her parents say it was a tragic accident. No one's fault. Now, Petula sees danger everywhere: every activity and every bite of food could kill you. Then a new boy, Jacob, joins Petula's group in the school's lame art therapy program; he has a prosthetic arm and darkness behind his sunny surface. Petula and Jacob become friends, then, something more. But a secret behind why he's in the group could derail them.
A heartbreaking yet humorous first YA from award-winning author Susin Nielsen, Optimists Die First continues Susin's tradition of creating memorable characters and genre-bending narratives.
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, 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.
- Nominated, Carnegie Medal
- Nominated, Snow Willow Award
- Short-listed, Children's Book Award
A CBC Books Best Canadian Young Adult and Children's Books (2017)
SELECTION - CBC Most Anticipated Books of 2017
One of Bank Street’s Best Children's Books of The Year (2017)
One of Toronto Public Library’s Great Reads for Youth 2018
Selection 2018 – BookRiot 50 Must-Read Canadian Children’s and YA Books
One of CanLit for Little Canadians' must-read Canadian YA books
PRAISE FOR Optimists Die First:
"Nielsen writes with sensitivity, empathy, and humor, believably lightening Petula’s constant efforts to cope . . . Another lovely outing from Nielsen." --Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews
"[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." --Starred Review, School Library Journal
"Grief and guilt permeate Nielsen’s (We Are All Made of Molecules) empathic and deeply moving story, balanced by sharply funny narration and dialogue . . . 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 [her youth art group], and open herself up to the idea of romance with Jacob." --Starred Review, Publishers Weekly
"[A] humorous, heart-breaking account of grief-induced anxiety."--The Guardian
"Nielsen’s a snappy, smart writer and this story fairly bowls along, enlivened by its savvy references to movies and actors, weird craft ideas, humour and inventive film projects." --The Toronto Star
"[S]imultaneously laugh-out-loud funny and raw and tragic, allowing for it to feel totally human." --Bustle