Reader Reviewed Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen

Optimists Die First

Written by Susin Nielsen

13+ readers   Books of the Month   YA readers   UKLA 2018   eBooks   
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Longlisted for the UKLA 2018 Book Award

March 2017 Book of the Month | In a Nutshell: how to hope for the best even when you’ve been through the worst | Susin Nielsen puts her protagonists through the most terrible situations, but always manages to keep the tone of her novels light, positive and ultimately uplifting. Teenager Petula’s little sister died in tragic circumstances and the effect on the family has been shattering: her parents are both coping in their own way, but growing further apart, while Petula sees danger and threats in everything. Because of her terrible anxiety she’s been signed up to a youth art therapy group which is where she meets Jacob. Jacob has his own tragedy to deal with, but his arrival changes the dynamics of the group and helps all the different members to move on in one way or another. He and Petula become a couple, but there’s a growing realisation for her and readers that he’s not been completely honest. Readers will be gripped by Petula’s story and the way she tells it; Nielsen gives her a totally authentic teen voice, loaded with cynicism, sarcasm, humour and flashes of hope.

Recommended for readers who enjoy Nielsen’s poignant, sensitive novels is I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloane. ~ Andrea Reece

*** Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Take the quiz & find out!

Reader Reviews

Teens/YA's love to read and so in addition to the review by one of the Lovereading4kids editorial experts some of our Lovereading4kids Reader Review Panel members were also lucky enough to read and review this title. Click here to read their full reviews.

  • Kyra - 'I read this in two hours as I was utterly entranced by the moving story that Susin Nielsen crafted - I fell deeply in love with this book and I'm sure you will too!'
  • Rebekah Marsh, age 14 - 'The book enlightened me on how we may judge people at first, but we may not appreciate their unique personality until we get to know them as a true person.'
  • Izzy Read, age 16  - 'Optimists Die First is foremost a tale of guilt and forgiveness...It is to the point but messy in a way that replicates life perfectly.'
  • Jenny Duffy - 'Nielsin writes with warmth and sensitivity, creating relationships that are believable and nuanced...It’s a book I couldn’t stop thinking about..But seriously, Optimists Die First features a re-enactment of Wuthering Heights starring cats, how could I not love it?!'    
  • Rosa Boran - 'This is a wonderful novel.  I read it in one sitting...There is tragedy but Nielson sweetens it with laugh out loud moments and a great understanding of what it is to be a teenager.'
  • Emily Price, age 14 - 'I could not put this book down! It was such a good read and an unexpected ending. Overall a brilliant book and highly recommended.'
  • Jess Kenny - 'This is a very moving book, which has you on the edge of your seat. I loved it!'
  • Dani, age 25 - 'Optimists Die First was a mixed experience for me...while it had some very funny moments and an odd array of characters, I wasn’t really able to connect with the book as much as I’d have liked.' 
  • Francesca Hughes - 'This book was a quirky, original page-turner. It was my first Susin Nielsen read and it won't be my last.'
  • Year 10 pupil from Dormston School - 'I loved the book because it shows you that happiness can be found in the darkest of times.'
  • Humaira - 'Optimists Die First just got better and better as I read on...It was hilarious. It was Sweet. It was a beautiful book about Loss, Love and Taking a leap of faith.'
  • Maddy Faulkner, age 14 - 'Nelson writes with warmth, humour, empathy and with startling truth..You become familiar and grow to like each character in a way never experienced before.'  

Win the Skulduggery Pleasant series, SIGNED by the author!

The 11 instalment in the best-selling Skulduggery Pleasant series, Midnight, is out in hardback on 31 May. To celebrate this we are giving away THREE prizes of all 11 books in the series, SIGNED by the author Derek Landy and delivered in a special Skulduggery Pleasant tote bag!

To have a chance of winning one of these great prizes, click the button below. Please note that this draw is open only for UK residents and is free to enter, multiple entries from the same email address will only be counted once. Draw closes on 28 June 2018. The winners will be notified by 12 July 2018.

Good luck!

Enter prize draw Draw closes: 28/06/2018


Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen

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.

A love story for cynics from the acclaimed author of 2015’s must-read teen novel, We Are All Made of Molecules.


Hilarious, heart-warming and beautifully unexpected - a real keeper Lisa Williamson, author of The Art of Being Normal

I fell for Optimists Die First like I was curled up with a familiar favourite - offbeat charm, with a bittersweet romance at its sorrowful heart. -- Harriet Reuter Hapgood, author of The Square Root of Summer

Optimists Die First will make you feel bigger in every way. Bigger in courage to face a dangerous world; bigger in feeling; bigger in love; bigger in your ability to put yourself back together after something that should break you; and yes, bigger in optimism -- Jeff Zentner, author of The Serpent King

Grief and guilt permeate Nielsen's empathic and deeply moving story, balanced by sharply funny narration and dialogue. Publishers Weekly, starred review

Nielsen writes with sensitivity, empathy, and humour Kirkus, starred review

The novel's greatest strength is its handling of the characters very real burdens with sympathy, wit, and not an ounce of melodrama. Nielsen excels at depicting troubled, clever teenagers Starred review, School Library Journal

Nielsen has such a gift for creating authentic teenagers... Infused with offbeat humour, this is a book with a great voice and a big, big heart -- Fiona Noble The Bookseller

Optimists Die First confirms what I already knew: Susin Nielsen is one of my favourite writers Phil Earle, author of Being Billy

Susin Nielsen has produced a richly comic story featuring a cast of mismatched, engaging characters -- Marilyn Brocklehurst Guardian, The Best New Children's Books supplement

Entertaining but also poignant -- Claire Hennessy Irish Times

One of the most talented teen writers working today BookTrust

Grief and guilt permeate Nielsen's empathic and deeply moving story, balanced by sharply funny narration and dialogue. Publishers Weekly, starred review

The novel's greatest strength is its handling of the characters very real burdens with sympathy, wit, and not an ounce of melodrama. Nielsen excels at depicting troubled, clever teenagers Starred review, School Library Journal

Optimists Die First is both funny and heartbreaking. Fans of Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor And Park will love it. Red Magazine Online

Nielsen has a pitch-perfect ear for the dialogue of the unconventional, the betrayed, the guilty Books for Keeps

About the Author

Susin Nielsen

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 many Canadian TV series. Nielsen's first two young adult novels, Word Nerd and Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom, received critical acclaim and multiple Young Readers' Choice Awards. The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen won the prestigious Governor General's Literary Award, the Canadian Library Association's Children's Book of the Year and many Young Readers' Choice Awards. She lives in Vancouver with her family and two extremely destructive cats.

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Book Info


272 pages


Susin Nielsen
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Andersen Press Ltd

Publication date

2nd March 2017




Publisher Profile

Andersen Press Ltd is an imprint of Andersen Press

logo Andersen Press is one of the leading independent children’s publishers, publishing some of the biggest names in the world of children's books including the much-loved picture book characters the Little Princess and Elmer the patchwork elephant. Andersen Press is the home of many award-winning authors and illustrators including Melvin Burgess, Rebecca Stead, Satoshi Kitamura, Tony Ross, David McKee, Chris Judge and Jeanne Willis. Founded in 1976 by Klaus Flugge it won the Bologna Best Children’s Publisher prize in the European Category in 2016, the company’s 40th anniversary year.

Publisher's Website

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