Book Review: Zac and Mia – A. J. Betts


Title: Zac and Mia (2013)
Author: A. J. Betts
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Extent: 310 pages
Release Date: July 24, 2013
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Goodreads Description

“When I was little I believed in Jesus and Santa, spontaneous combustion, and the Loch Ness monster. Now I believe in science, statistics, and antibiotics.”

So says seventeen-year-old Zac Meier during a long, grueling leukemia treatment in Perth, Australia. A loud blast of Lady Gaga alerts him to the presence of Mia, the angry, not-at-all-stoic cancer patient in the room next door. Once released, the two near-strangers can’t forget each other, even as they desperately try to resume normal lives. The story of their mysterious connection drives this unflinchingly tough, tender novel told in two voices.


Plenty of people compared this to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I didn’t really get that feel, but I could certainly see the similarities: two kids with cancer fall in love. The characters and personalities in Zac and Mia are different, though, so I’d say the story is quite different.

I didn’t like Mia very much. On one hand, she’s got cancer, but she’s also arrogant, irritating, extremely flawed and honestly a little bit of a bitch. She took advantage of and was rude to pretty much everyone, and at one point I do wonder: does having cancer justify all of your actions? Somehow with her, I’m not convinced–and that really puts a damper on my enjoyment of the chapters told from her perspective or heavily involving her.

“Google tells me everything I need to know about death except what comes after.”

Zac, on the other hand, is one of the sweetest, most understanding characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about. Even at his worst he still treated other people with patience and kindness, and he didn’t seem to mind putting people first, even when they might not deserve it. He was such a stark contrast to Mia that at times I really wanted to shake him and tell him he could do with so much better.

Zac and Mia’s relationship was a tumultuous one. There are no butterflies here, no first dates and certainly no will-they-won’t-they, at least not in the traditional sense (i.e. I was more worried about whether or not they’ll make it out alive instead of whether or not they’ll end up together). Instead, their relationship started out more rockily, with judgment, anger and pain from either side–although Zac did let up a lot more quickly than Mia, which made me feel that the relationship was very one-sided for the majority of the book.

All that said, however, both characters felt extremely realistic and human to me. Mia might not be likeable, but not everyone is. Zac might be sweet, but he still struggles. Betts never once lost sight of the pain and suffering cancer can bring, and some parts of the book were downright sad and hopeless–the emotions ran high and everything felt raw.

“I don’t know how he does it—how he makes me forget the clock and the pain. Sometimes, even if it’s just for a few seconds, I can forget how crap my life is.”

Setting-wise, I really enjoyed Betts’ description of Perth. I lived there for a year-ish when I was younger and absolutely loved that Zac’s family owns and operates a farm. It was a refreshing change from all the traditionally ‘cool’ YA parent jobs (doctors, lawyers, etc.), and I liked the bits where Zac fed a fox and helped out with the farm. It felt very… genuine? I don’t often read books set in Australia, and it’s just good to do so. 😛

All criticisms about Mia and the relationship aside, I enjoyed the story quite a lot. There was not a boring moment, and I got sucked in from the start right until the end. Zac’s chapters were my favourite for his warm voice, and I loved his family and how tight and understanding they were of one another. His is the kind of family I love to see in YA fiction, only because more often than not, we get neglected teenagers and absent parents, and honestly, there are healthy families out there.

Overall, Zac and Mia is a realistic, engaging book about terminal illnesses, hope and hopelessness, and self-acceptance. It’s not a glamourous story — cancer never is — but it’s emotional, it’s raw, and it’s well-developed.

REAL RATING: 3.5 stars.

Have you read this book yet? What do you think?

24 thoughts on “Book Review: Zac and Mia – A. J. Betts

  1. Hey Long time no see Reg. 🙂 I just love how you always point the best things out in books instead of brooding over the things you didn’t like. It really sees like an interesting read though. Did you feel like the cancer theme was cliché?


  2. Great review Reg, I can kind of see why people are comparing this book to John Green’s but at the same time your review is enough to convince me they’re two very different stories even if the concepts are very similar.
    It sounds like a great story, it’s a shame you didn’t really connect with Mia’s character, honestly she doesn’t sound like a nice character, or one I’d connect with either, but I loved your description of Zac, and either way it sounds like they were both well developed which in books like this is definitely the most important thing right?
    I’m definitely going to be adding this one to my to-read list now! 😀


    • Thanks, Beth! I was a bit sad for the author because I think people said she plagiarised, but honestly, just because the concepts/premise are similar really doesn’t mean the book is plagiarised.

      Mia is definitely NOT a nice character – she’s rather abrasive, angry, and probably not meant to be likable, but I appreciate that she’s realistic in that way. Zac on the other hand was super, super sweet; I just really loved him.

      I hope you get the chance to read this eventually! I always love it when people pick up Oz YA. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • You always get people that think that, especially if they’re massive fans of John Green and as such really defensive of his works, but you’re right concepts can’t really be plagiarised. If they could you could say every fairytale retelling out there has been plagiarised from the original source.
        Well at least she was realistic, there’s nothing worse than a character who is both unlikeable and flat. But Zac sounds lovely. Yeah hopefully soon, though I’ll probably be next year at least. My to-read list for this year is already full! 😀


        • Yeah, exactly! Like just because it has a similar premise definitely doesn’t mean it’s the same story, you know? The characters are different, the way the plot is set out is different… I suppose I’m also a big believer in the whole Seven Basic Plots thing so authenticity matters more to me than originality.

          I can relate! Mine is too. 😂

          Liked by 1 person

          • There are plenty of fantasy books that have a similar premise, and if you go really wide pretty much all dystopian books have a similar premise as well (end of the world, etc.). As long as the author hasn’t copied and pasted parts of one book into theirs you kind of have to take them both on their own merits.
            I’m the same, even if two authors do start out with the same idea the situations they create, the characters they write and just their style of telling a story will create two very different books in the end!


            • Yeah, exactly. And people’s imagination and creativity already put me in awe even if they’re similar – I mean, writing is REALLY REALLY HARD. Finishing a story and making sure everything is coherent is already somewhat of an accomplishment, I’ll say! 😊

              Liked by 1 person

  3. I actually haven’t heard of this before but am curious to see what it is like. I also have to say your review made me laugh ‘honestly just a little bit of a bitch’ – yes! I love when you don’t hold back and give your honest thoughts! She sounds like a character that I would have trouble with but I also like how you mention how we aren’t going to like every character. I love how it also sounds realistic!
    Great review!


  4. great review!! i’m always hesitant to pick up a book centered around cancer because i feel like it’ll fall into that john green romanticized trope but this seems different! and an Australian farm seems like a plus 👌


  5. I have never heard of this book before, but your review has me interested, especially that question that you asked…”Does having cancer justify all of your actions?” I think that is such an interesting question.
    I think this would be one of the books that I would check out from my library, so I’m planning to put it on my list.


  6. I remember putting this one on my TBR a few years ago after I read a sample but for some reason I’ve yet to read the full book. It’s good to hear you enjoyed it and I usually love raw and emotional stories so I have hopes that I’ll like it whenever I eventually get to it. Great review, Reg! 😊


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s