Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: Zac & Mia by A.J. Betts

Wednesday, August 27, 2014 with 6 comments
Title: Zac & Mia
Author: A.J. Betts
Series: n/a
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 2, 2014
Source: ARC from publisher
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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The last person Zac expects in the room next door is a girl like Mia, angry and feisty with questionable taste in music. In the real world, he wouldn’t—couldn’t—be friends with her. In hospital different rules apply, and what begins as a knock on the wall leads to a note—then a friendship neither of them sees coming.

You need courage to be in hospital; different courage to be back in the real world. In one of these worlds Zac needs Mia. And in the other Mia needs Zac. Or maybe they both need each other, always.

Those allegations that this is The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor & Park aren't far off but they don't do this story any favors with the comparisons. I despise those types of comparisons, honestly, because they just don't do a book any justice. So, let's forget them. What this story is is honest and stark and hopeful and brutal and basically what you'd expect a story about kids with cancer to be...except it's not.

I loved how the author handles the dual points of view in this narrative, though at times the two voices did sound a little too similar. Still, this isn't the usual back-and-forth between two characters, getting his perspective and then hers on the same situations. No, this story is told in three parts, each of which highlights the character and paves the way for the ultimate role reversal.


We start out with Zac's perspective as the resident cool kid in the adult cancer ward. He's beating this leukemia thing and he's not letting anyone tell him otherwise, not even the newbie in room 2 who blares Lady Gaga like she's the only one in a hundred mile radius. Mia is a bit rough around the edges, to say the least, but Zac tries to remain hopeful for her sake, even when her own resentment and anger turn her into a bit of a shrew.

Zac is sweet and unassuming. He knows the math, the statistics behind his illness and recovery and what it means for his future. And yet, he still remains positive. Sometimes his character read a bit younger than the nearly 18 years he was presented as, but maybe being stuck in a hospital for weeks on end will do that to you?


Next, we get the standard dual perspective, starting again with Zac and then switching to Mia and then back again. But it's anything but standard. Though the characters may have sounded a little alike from time to time, they both handle their situations in very different ways. Each character seems different when viewed through the other's eyes, but I think it was their inner monologues that made them eerily similar to me. But maybe that's because they were going through some of the same things, no matter how they inevitably handled them.

Fair warning, if you don't enjoy characters that you're not supposed to like despite the fact that they could use a little compassion -- a la Alice from Side Effects May Vary -- you're likely to have difficulty connecting with Mia, especially even once you read from her point-of-view and understand better where she's coming from. Knowing doesn't actually make it any easier to empathize with her. Zac tries his best, though, and at times, he seems to be just what Mia needs: someone who cares enough to try, to fight for her when she's ready to give up fighting.


And then we're back to a single perspective, this time just Mia's. She's different. Things haven't miraculously gotten better for her, but she's more accepting, and a lot of that she owes to Zac. Zac, who she's pushed away for months. Zac, who she wants in her life now, more than anyone and more than ever before. How could she not have seen just how lucky she was to have someone so genuine and good in her life?

Zac & Mia is a story of friendship, love, pain, and everything in between. It's about two kids who find each other amidst battling cancer and hoping for some semblance of normalcy. Above all, it is hopeful, if not a tad bittersweet, and I appreciated the fact that the characters were flawed and not above reproach. This is not the sobfest that others that have come before it were inclined to be, but I don't think that was the author's intent. Those Aussies know how to pluck at the right strings to make you feel just how they want without inundating you with those emotions. And Zac & Mia is no different. If you like characters with faults, have a penchant for Aussie young adult novels, or just enjoy genuinely heartfelt stories with a hopeful message, I think there's something for you in this novel.

GIF it to me straight:
Sad but hopeful.

About the author:

A.J. grew up in Far North Queensland, Australia, reading Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, L.M. Montgomery, and Douglas Adams. She has taught in Brisbane and traveled the world with a backpack and a camera. When she is not writing or teaching, she rides bikes, bakes, and occasionally communes with sea lions that live near her home. She lives in Watermans Bay, Australia.

Find A.J.:

Website | Blog | Goodreads | Facebook


  1. It's great that you liked this, Jen! It's always good to see AussieYA being well-received overseas! And yes, this really does get right to your heart :)

    Mands @ The Bookish Manicurist

    1. I don't think I've met an Aussie YA novel yet that I haven't liked...or adored, in some cases. :)

  2. I also hate hearing those comparisons...they tend to turn me off but I know the author didn't write them so I still give books with them a try.
    I'm planning on picking this one up soon, so I'm happy to hear that you enjoyed it! :) I hope that I'll be able to handle all of the feels!

    -Emily @ Books & Cleverness

    1. I know it's a marketing gimmick to garner interest for a title, but it sucks. It doesn't put me off a book, but it does make me question the legitimacy of such a claim. And the publisher.

      I hope you enjoy it when you get to Zac & Mia. I'll be giving a copy away very soon! :D

  3. The set up is quite interesting - going from just Zac's POV, to dual, to just Mia's. But that comparison to Side Effects May Vary definitely worries me. I don't do well with unlikeable MC; it usually drags the whole book down for me.

    I love my Aussie books, so I think I'll give this one a shot. Fingers crossed! Thanks for your review, Jen. :)

  4. I loved this book! I live in Australia so I got this one a year ago. Great review, glad you liked it too.


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