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Digital Subscriptions > Quill & Quire > JANUARY FEBRUARY 2017 > Saw that coming

Saw that coming

Susin Nielsen aims for an older YA audience with her new novel, which – no surprise – is superb


★ Optimists Die First

Tundra Books, Ages 12+

TO 16-YEAR-OLD Petula de Wilde, optimists are misguided. They are people who believe things will always go their way and don’t see danger until it’s too late. When her toddler sister dies in a random accident, Petula learns three things: 1) Life is not fair. 2) Tragedy can strike when you least expect it. And 3) Always expect the worst. That way you might have a chance of protecting yourself and the ones you love.

And so, Petula becomes a dedicated pessimist. A pessimist is a realist. A pessimist stays safe. Petula spends hours in front of her computer, hunting down articles about the most unusual and unexpected deaths. And while collecting stories about freak accidents seems to soothe her in the moment, most of her consciousness is consumed with unyielding vigilance. What she eats, whom she touches, even her route home from school is affected. For Petula, defensive pessimism is a coping mechanism, and it gives her a sense of control over uncontrollable events. But ultimately, all this constant caution brings more anxiety than relief, and she finds herself alone with her worries more often than not.

Then, over the course of the school year, things start to change for Petula. She allows her shell to be cracked – by an avuncular principal, by the quirky outcasts in her Youth Art Therapy group, and, most significantly, by the new boy with the mechanical arm and mysterious past.

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