BOOK REVIEW: Optimist Die First by Susin Nielsen

March 14, 2017


Maxine's death had shown me that dangers lurk around every corner. So even if my grief and guilt made it hard to for me to get out of bed, i knew I needed to do what I could to keep my parents together and safe. And I had to keep myself safe, too, even if sometimes i wish i was dead. Because I'm it. I'm the only child my parents have left” – Optimist Die First, Susin Nielsen.




After the death of Maxine, three-year old sister to, Petula is shut off from the world, isolated in her grievance and pain. Gone the days where her father would play his records to dance until sweaty and exhausted, gone reading stories at night and gone, Maxine. Her pain and guilt turns into seeing the danger in everything. That her anxiety and panic attacks take effect on her living her mundane life, living with caution. After, throwing a mug at her one on one therapist, Petula goes to mandatory Youth Art Therapy or so called, YART.  With lame art projects and being stuck with trouble kids, she meets Jacob – bionic man-  normal and confident. Petula wants nothing to do with him until they are forced to collaborate on a English assignment where she begins to take the steps to open up and face her fears.



Personal thoughts


Optimist Die First has become my favourite novel of 2017. And, its only February. This book was thoughtfully written as a young love story through death and guilt. It was comical-  crafting and cat videos and yelling at people who see the movie but don't read the book- then deep and emotional. You can feel the marks left from each character. I wanted laugh, cry and throttle the characters. It was a enjoyable book. It was cute, quirky and fun. This book had brought back so many memorable moments of being sixteen, such as having an obsession of Laura Ingalls books, being crafty and creative in art projects, Harriet the Spy books, and dealing with anxiety and depression. I thought Susin did a respectable and thoughtful job writing powerful and sensitive topics. The dialogue was enjoyable and well- written.


Since the book did go very quickly I feel that Petula's mental health was being glossed over with humour. Her obsessions with the scrapbooks and ideal deaths and her being afraid of germs, construction sites, crossing the street, literally anything and everything are thrown kind of of out the window when she meets Jacob. Yes, the romance was very awkward and quirky, unforced relationship. Two people who are allowed to fall in love. There is sex involved but it is not descriptive. It is a love story. HOWEVER, being in a new relationship does not cure psychiatric disorders. A person cannot “break” the shell the person has built around themselves.


For readers who are not big on world-building, but indulges in character dialogue and love array of diverse characters this is the book for you. The book is young-feeling, first love and moving forward novel. Also, calling my cat lovers to read this book as well.






Petula is a bright soul - feisty, opinionated and mean. She's raw and real. I love her. She's too funny then very deep. She is creative, loud, has a fatalist attitude and living life behind an invisible wall. She is living with the guilt of her sisters death. She has a disturbing scrapbook of articles of deaths. She's random. She is crafty and intelligent. Despite meeting Jacob and spending time to making adorable cat videos of Wuthering Heights, she is taking enormous, insurmountable steps to manage her life to change how she is dealing with the loss of her sister and trying to fix her parents relationship. Petula proves what it’s like to be human and have a mental disorder.


  1. Life is not fair.

  2. Tragedy can stike when you least except it.

  3. Always expect the worst. That way, you might stand the chance of protecting yourself and the ones you love.


YART Friends


“ I m leaning toward forgiveness I mean, there are lot of people who will never be able to forgive him. And he’ll never be able to forgive himself. Maybe we don’t need to punish him.”  


This group of young misfits are AMAZING! Each character has a spot in my heart. I really connected with these characters. Unique and amusing, raw and tender.  Ivan the Terrible, Alonzo and Koula. They are always dealing with the What ifs and guilt. The mysteries and reveal of each character background story. They must stick together to move forward and find ways to overturn their guilt and I think that’s why I really enjoy this book that these fellow YART members together can give a piece of that abundance and forgiveness. They are important to each other. They bring out the good, the bad and ugly of each other, yet at the same time united them together to feel less isolated, self-loathing, forgotten, worthless and unloved.  




" We aren't rich in money, but we're rich in love." – Optimist Die First, Susin Neilson


I love reading the grief of Petula's parents. Parents tend to show their own type of pain and grief without showing their pain. Both of are grieving for the loss of a child they could not protect. Losing a child is losing a limb, part of your soul. Petula parents closeted off the pain and began to work overtime, barley coming home and adopting too many cats to try and replace their child; Both Petula parents graduated from UBC ( University of British Columbia) her mom inn children's literature, her father in musicology. With little saving they opened up a bookstore and that was Petula life, surrounded by books and love. After Maxine was born, Petula father began working at an accounting firm and her mom working at another book store. I think its important to notice the signs that your family is going through the same pain and not sure where to move forward or what their doing to manage the pain is not healthy. Petula tried to keep her dysfunctional family from falling apart from cleaning up the cats, to do the simple chores and bring the her parents together. 


Comment if you read the book and what are your biggest fears ? Mine is falling - not from buildings or bridges, but like falling deep into something I won't be able to get out of.


Signing out, 



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