This is a book about teenagers with cancer.
Wait, don’t run away yet. Some people have been comparing Zac & Mia to John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars, and I don’t think that’s fair. AJ Betts is an author I was unfamiliar with until recently. I guess she’s from Australia (which makes sense now, the book is set there) and she’s written two other YA novels that I’ve never heard of. But this one was pretty solid, I have to say.
It chronicles the tale of Zac (cancer patient #1, with leukemia, which sucks) and Mia (cancer patient #2, with osteosarcoma, which also sucks *I know what you’re thinking, Gus from TFIOS had a ‘touch of osteosarcoma’ but it’s not the same, I swear it!*) and their bouts with cancer but also their bouts with life. This story isn’t a depressing and sad look at cancer. It’s honest, it keeps it kind of real, and I appreciated that. Was there some melodramatic fluff within the pages? Sure. But I appreciated the story all the same.
Firstly, stuff I really enjoyed:
- Zac’s family owns an olive farm (called The Good Olive) and petting zoo! How insanely cool is that detail? The whole time I was reading, I just wanted to dip some bread into oil because of this.
- Zac’s relationship with Cam, a not-super-featured other cancer patient (he’s in his 30’s) who loves to surf and live life to the fullest.
- The utter reality of Mia trying to hide her illness from her friends from school (she blames the crutches she has to use on a volleyball injury).
- The tapping and knocking as a way to communicate between hospital rooms.
Secondly, stuff I wasn’t crazy about:
- Mia’s personality can be described as ‘grating’ if you want to be nice about it. She grew on me though, honestly. Her reactions to things kind of made sense at times, based on her background and past experiences.
- The inevitable love-like that grows between Z & M. One day, I’d like to read a book about a boy and a girl going through similar situations, and not have them necessarily fall for each other.
- Mia’s douchey boyfriend she has in the beginnings of the book. He just seemed like the worst person. Really.
I want to say more about the things I liked and disliked but I don’t want to give away too much about the book. This novel is not just about cancer and illness. It’s about a journey between two friends. One who’s accepted their illness, and one who has not. I appreciated the fact that this novel didn’t all take place in a hospital. The characters really got to live. They got to have problems that weren’t always related to the obvious cancer issue.
There’s a road trip involved, as most good YA novels tend to have. There are corn dogs and some truly beautiful words sprinkled into the pages, and I think AJ Betts did a great job with this one. I have to give applause to all the supporting characters too. The family members, the friends, the nurses. They really helped to shape the story. They weren’t written to be blending into the background, most of them stood out in their own right. That’s impressive.
If I had to sum up the book in a sentence, I’d say that Zac & Mia learn to battle their illnesses and be brave while learning more about themselves and each other in the process.
Best quote from the book:
“Google tells me everything I need to know about death except what comes after.”
4 / 5