846*: Zac & Mia (review)

NetGalley ARC
Houghton Mifflin
release date: Oct. 2

I read Zac & Mia because The Fault In Our Stars has been such a phenomenon with my kids at school–and the blurb sounded enough like Stars to think this might be another YA favorite. So while might not want kids to jump into a novel simply because it shared a plot similar to the best seller, at least they’re reading, right?

And truth be told? I liked Zac & Mia better than Stars.

The novel opens with Zac Meier recuperating in isolation after a bone marrow transplant to treat his leukemia. His life is on hold–no football, no school, no graduation. Zac and MiaCounting down the days until his release, Zac’s days are spent  playing Scrabble with his mum. Not exactly exciting stuff for an eighteen-year-old. And then a new patient moves into Room 2. But unlike the tedium that surrounds his hospital stay, the girl’s arrival (Zac caught her peeking in the window of his door)  brings all sorts of drama. There’s arguing, door slamming, and Lady Gaga blaring through the walls. His mum finds out she has osteosarcoma. Treatable. Manageable. She’s lucky, he thinks.

So they pass notes under the door and tap their hellos on the wall. And because this is 2013, they friend each other on Facebook. Compare chemo notes.

And then she’s gone.

Zac returns home–cancer-free! healthy!–and picks up (or tries to anyway) where he left off. He helps on the family’s olive farm and petting zoo. Returns to school. Sits with the football team, even if he can’t yet return to the field. And life returns to normal–until Mia shows up without warning. She’s clearly sick and not getting treatment. She’s angry, needs money, and she’s given up.

The question is, will Zac give up, too?

Writer A.J. Betts won Australia’s Ethel Turner Prize for Zac & Mia, her third novel. The characters are real (more so that Stars, I think) and the engaging plot moved quickly. I loved that I got a glimpse of Australia–all bush and joeys and alpacas. It’s nice, sometimes, to get out of the States.

We read in room B209, every Friday. All hour. The kids know I love the book and as soon as I get my hands on a paperback copy, it will join other favorites on my reading cart.

* the number of cancer deaths in Australia in one week

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