Petula Harriet de Wilde is an anxiety-ridden nightmare. Though she lives right next to school, she walks extra blocks to avoid local construction. She avoids handshakes, hugs, and group projects as if her life depends on it, and for Petula it feels like it does. After the death of her younger sister, Petula finds it impossible to fit back in with her classmates. Then, the worst happens. She is partnered with a new kid in school to complete a project on her favorite book. She can’t even escape him in her therapy art class! What follows is a hilarious novel involving mental health, death, divorce, and the frustrations of being a teenager.
As someone who lives day after day with an anxiety disorder, Optimists Die First was laugh out loud funny. So many of Petula’s behaviors were easily recognizable. There is a great deal to unpack with this book. There are aspects of Survivor’s Guilt, teenage anxiety, what happens when you have a terrible therapist, and the changes in life that happen so quickly, one must struggle to keep up. This book is labeled for teenagers and YA, but I’d save it for your older teenagers. There are a great deal of adult situations, sexuality, references to drug and alcohol use, and other areas that might not be so easy to explain to a younger teenager.
Optimists Die First was funny and tragic at the same time, often teetering between the two in a delicate balance that most authors struggle to find, let alone achieve. Susan Nielsen has done an amazing job of capturing life with an anxiety disorder, and living through your fears.
Optimists Die First is now available from Wendy Lamb Books