Review: Optimists Die First


Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen

My Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Petula has avoided friendship and happiness ever since tragedy struck her family and took her beloved younger sister Maxine. Worse, Petula blames herself. If only she’d kept an eye on her sister, if only she’d sewn the button Maxine choked on better, if only…

Now her anxiety is getting out of control, she is forced to attend the world’s most hopeless art therapy class. But one day, in walks the Bionic Man: a charming, amazingly tall newcomer called Jacob, who is also an amputee. Petula’s ready to freeze him out, just like she did with her former best friend, but when she’s paired with Jacob for a class project, there’s no denying they have brilliant ideas together – ideas like remaking Wuthering Heights with cats.

But Petula and Jacob each have desperately painful secrets in their pasts – and when the truth comes out, there’s no way Petula is ready for it.


When I read, “A love story for cynics,” at the cover I clicked the request button on Netgalley so fast. As someone who always sees a half-empty glass of water, I was really excited to read this one because cynics and pessimists are my kind of people. But did I got what I wanted? Well, not quite.

Petula is this quirky and crafty girl, she’s living with serious anxiety ever since her little sister died. She shuts down everyone including her ex-bestfriend, she can’t deal with things most of the time because her anxiety just eats her up. Some readers may find her character quite immature, but what do you expect from a 16-year old girl?

Jacobon the other hand, is this boy she met at art therapy class. He’s an amputee, so plus points for representation here, and generally cute and likable. Oh yeah, he also likes films and he directs videos which made the story more interesting.

The thing is, for a promised “cynic love story” it came out pretty optimistic. There was no insta-love, the development of Petula and Jacob’s relationship was well-paced, but it unfortunately became a “love-can-overcome-everything story”. Petula’s anxiety was portrayed poorly in here, it appeared and disappeared when Jacob came in the story.

Let’s be reminded that love or any boy cannot cure mental illnesses, portraying it as so is both unrealistic and harmful.

With that out, I actually liked the rest of the story. Despite being a character-driven book, the plot holds something to watch out for and it does throw some revelations toward the end. The writing style also worked for me, it was a delight to read and I basically finished this in one sitting.

And oh! This has A LOT of cats in it, YES CATS! Petula’s mom is a cat-lady and there were so many adorable scenes with her purr-y friends. This includes making a remake of Wuthering Heights with cats as the characters—best idea ever, just genius.

I’ve put off writing this review for quite some time, and I initially gave this 4-stars but after some weeks plus some reevaluation I decided to take one star off. The reason behind this, is that I cannot remember enough details about it after some time which makes it not deserve 4-stars. Basically what I’m saying is that, it’s not remarkable.

It’s a fun and quirky read but it does not leave a lasting impression. It’s something you’ve read before but with some different quirks.

Optimists Die First is a good quick read if you enjoy character-driven books with a lots of cats. It can possibly make you slightly less pessimistic after the last page. Do I recommend this? Sure, if you want something light to read during your past time but if you’re looking for books that deal with mental illnesses that has a realistic approach well, this one isn’t it.

Thank you so much Netgalley and the publisher for giving me an eARC of this book.

That’s all, thank you so much for reading. If you want to read more book reviews from this blog, just click here. And you could also find my reviews in Goodreads.

12 thoughts on “Review: Optimists Die First

  1. Seriously, what is with all these portrayal of mental illnesses where falling in love is the magic cure? Thanks for pointing this out so honestly in your review. I’m collecting YAs about mental illness and it’s helpful to be able to cross ones with unrealistic portrayals off the TBR.

    Liked by 2 people

      • I think about this topic a lot because it’s really close to my heart. As much as I love that mental illness is getting more representation in YA lit, I think it’s too easy to romanticize the illness. Most people know mental illnesses aren’t fun, but I think in a lot of cases they wouldn’t really want to know how dark it can actually get. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve been called “negative” or “whiny” when I have reached out to friends, particularly when I was in high school. And now I’m at this point where I want to write about those experiences but I’m terrified of my protagonist coming off as selfish, spoiled, whiny, rather than someone who’s struggling with something that’s real and worth addressing. Anyway, sorry for the ramble, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s a complicated issue and I really appreciate that people are drawing attention to it in reviews.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I completely agree with you! As someone who knows exactly what mental illness is like, it’s difficult to live with and portraying it in such a light just shows people the “fake” version of how it’s like. It’s important to make sure people are educated about this so that they won’t see characters as just selfish or whatever else.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you so much for sharing both of your experiences! 💕 I 100% agree, I love reading books that deal with mental illnesses, and I really hope that the representations would be more accurate so that it’ll do a better job representing those who have it and making people understand how it works. Romanticizing mental illness does more harm than good, and I hope authors would be more careful with that troupe.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. As much as I like to read books dealing with topics to get to know more about them (like mental illness), I hate it when it’s done wrong. Someone doesn’t get better from falling in love and unfortunately that’s really prevalent in many books. Might look into picking this one up though.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: March Wrap-up + Favorites [2017] | geniereads

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