Optimists Die First – Life Ahead: Proceed with Caution by Susin Nielsen.


This is a deeply engaging young adult book. 17-year-old Petula De Wilde is plagued with guilt over her accidental contribution to her baby sister’s death. In addition, she has become obsessed with the idea that anything less than constant vigilance can result in tragedy, leaving her parents with no children at all. As a result, she will not shake hands, walk anywhere near construction sites, get in elevators, or do anything that remotely endangers her safety.

The tragedy has damaged her parents’ marriage. Her mother has become a cat rescuer to the point where they are struggling to pay the bills. Her father is the absent workaholic.

Petula has intense, debilitating, physical reactions to stress. She has become socially isolated. Her conversations with the school counsellor are minimally successful so Petula is tossed into an art therapy group. Against her wishes, she connects with an odd collection of students each also coping with overwhelming tragedies in their personal lives. Every character is distinct and believable. The reader will root for each and every one to break free of the crushing experiences they have suffered.

Although this is a dark and disturbing topic, Nielsen gives Petula a winning sense of humor. The students in the arts therapy group are frank and often hilarious. Their progress, and Petula’s, proceeds with fits and starts but leaves the reader feeling hopeful.

Nielsen writes with finesse and insight. This highly readable book will be enjoyed by young adults and adults as well.

I received a hardcover copy of this book for review. Click on the cover to buy a copy.


Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages


One thought on “Optimists Die First – Life Ahead: Proceed with Caution by Susin Nielsen.

  1. Pingback: My Favorite Five Young Adult Books I’ve Read in 2017 | Bonnie Ferrante – Books for Children

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