Synopses. Spoilers. Sarcasm.
With such a cheery skull-and-crossbones cross-stitch Christmas sweater as its cover, I had a good feeling about Optimists Die First from the start. Overall this was a fun, quick read with some quirky characters, themes of self-love, and lots of cats. ODF follows Tula, a girl who is overly cautious about everything, often inducing panic attacks by thinking about every thing that could possibly go wrong, despite the improbabilities. Living with a family who is broken after her younger sister dies, Tula blames herself for Max’s death and is put into a youth art counselling group. A cast of misfits are included in their own journeys to mental recovery, along with a boy named Jacob who has a prosthetic arm. With guilt, secrets, and crafts, all our characters help each other heal from past traumas and accept the flaws of others. I liked this overall, even if the plot wasn’t too complicated. The characters were well written, the main character was relatable even with her crazy theories, and the mental health aspects of this novel were realistic and executed in a way that I think will reach many. However, the book was not long enough to properly execute the issues that were presented, and then end was rather rushed.
First of all, this is set in my home city Vancouver, BC. Canada REPRESENT. So yeah, that was fun picking up on where Tula was and being like, “I know that place!” Like Buddy from the movie Elf. “Santa! I know him!”
Every character had a full story arc, and watching their character development was like having a proud parent moment. Koula with her punk rock attitude finally becoming friends with Tula and filming her forgiveness video was great, since I was wishy-washy about her character early in the novel. Alonzo got to mime his heart out – bless him. Ivan got to have a proper memorial experience for him mother, which was so sad and sweet. It made it even better that there ended up being a chase scene in the video Jacob insists of filming. I liked how Jacob’s prosthetic arm was mentioned but not focused on. Most books are written about a character being gay, or having a disability, or a mental illness. This book just mentions it as a part of his character, and is a part of his ‘story’.
Tula was a character I could get behind, with her cat-lady tendencies and over-imagination. I’ve never taken it to the level she has, but I could easily if I tried (the cats, I mean. Or the stressing. OR BOTH). I commend her on keeping such a unique style – I predict Tula and Blue from Raven Boys would love to share closets. Also, I would like a knit cat beanie. The reunion with Rachel at the end was unexpected (I really thought she wouldn’t have such a happy ending) but nice. The backstory of them crafting together was super cute, especially when they get all giggly after meeting their crafting icon at the craft fair.
That all being said, I think there is something more important to mention: the Cataptation of Wuthering Heights. Bless their souls. The betrayal of trust when Tula enters the video in the contest sets up a large plot point later when Jacob has to confess the truth of what he did because of the Internet (oh, the Internet). However, the fact remains I can not see this video. I must have one. Susin Nielson, wherever you are, if you’re reading this, I need a real life version of that. Get on it, will you?
*I received an advanced reader copy of this book from Indigo Books & Music Inc. in exchange for an honest review*