Optimists Die First
by Susin Nielsen
DNF in August 2017
I received an e-ARC from Penguin Random House UK Children’s through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review!
When I requested this ARC on Netgalley at the beginning of the year, I was intrigued to read Optimists Die First. But as soon as I got approved, negative reviews of this novel came to my attention. Because readers especially didn’t like the way mental illnesses were portrayed, I was very hesitant to pick this up.
I joined #ARCAugust, in which I aimed to read ARCs of books that have already been released, so I decided it was finally time to read this novel. I recently saw some advice on Twitter, saying that you should decide whether or not an ARC is worth continuing after three chapters. Since I heard many negative things about this novel, I decided to follow this piece of advice.
So that’s what I did. I read the first four chapters and decided Optimists Die First wasn’t worth continuing. Everything bothered me: the mental health representation, the way the protagonist said ‘felines’ instead of ‘cats’, how she basically said that terrorism started with 9/11 … Maybe I was influenced by all the negative reviews, but the similarities to All the Bright Places worried me. The protagonist’s sister is dead, she has a mental illness (caused by the death of her sister) and she has to work together with a boy on a very special school project. All the Bright Places isn’t a good example of mental health representation, so I doubt Optimists Die First was going to be any better.
Within the first five pages, the protagonist had already taken out hand sanitizer, fainted while giving a presentation and checked whether the bookshelves were secured. The symptoms were all over the place. It’s as if this character was nothing more than her mental illnesses. On top of that, her mental illnesses got her in all sorts of funny or embarrassing situations. Mental illness can manifests in many different ways, but because the representation isn’t #OwnVoices as far as I know, I wasn’t willing to push through and read something that could be very harmful.
Based on other people’s review and my own observations during the first four chapters of this novel, I decided I won’t continue reading Optimists Die First. The mental health representation worries me and the plot of this novel doesn’t seem original anyway.