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