Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: 9/2/2014
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: cancer, friendship, family, recovery
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)
Summary: Zac unexpectedly meets Mia in the hospital while he is recovering from a bone marrow transplant. But their friendship is short-lived when they go back to their separate lives, only for them to reunite in a surprising way.
Around its publication date, I read a lot of middle of the road reviews for Zac and Mia. Many felt their expectations weren’t met, and so, this might be one of those situations where putting a distance between reviews and your chosen reading time leads to a positive outcome because I found Zac and Mia to be very refreshing, even if it wasn’t perfect.
I find myself thinking a lot about the choice to compare a book to two other popular ones. In this case, the book was marketed as a combo of The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor and Park. But how long before this overused comparison means nothing anymore? Maybe it is helpful to the average book buyer or maybe it’s really not because I wasn’t reminded of either of them when reading Zac and Mia. Sure, there was cancer (Fault) and a boy and girl as main characters (E&P) but that was basically it. For the record, I found Fault overly pretentious, so much that any emotion I was supposed to feel was lost in a lot of big words. On the other hand, I thought E&P was charming even if it’s not my favorite of the author’s work. I realize I’m going off on a major tangent and this is a way to sell books but is it really helpful when the final product is nothing like the newsworthy titles they are relating it to? For this reader, not so much.
Anyway. I digress.
The main thing that stood out to me about A.J. Bett’s book was how she didn’t over-dramatize the cancer. We all know cancer just sucks. I’m sure we all know at least 5 people who have died from cancer. It has sadly become a word that is a normal part of our reality these days, and I appreciated how Betts explained each of Zac and Mia’s diagnoses so well, and also had them dealing with it in very real ways. Zac’s loss of friendships, Mia’s hot and cold relationship with her boyfriend, Zac knowing so much about this disease but still being surprised by its unwieldy nature, the utter devotion from family members when one of their own is diagnosed. It was a true delight to spend time with Zac’s family, especially getting to know his mother and his sister.
I was surprised the structure of the book didn’t immediately start with flip-flopping between Zac and Mia, and spent a lot of time on Zac at first. I do think that had a hand in me not getting Mia as quickly as I wanted to, but as I delved deeper into the book and got to know her better, there was an apparent change in her. (Maggie at Just a Couple More compares her to Alice in Side Effects May Vary and I can totally see that. She’s not the flat, nice character everyone wants to be friends with. She’s complicated; what a revelation!) Because we get to know Zac right off the bat and were provided with such a fuller look at his life, I felt closer to him than to Mia.
Another highlight? There wasn’t romance for sake of romance. There was attraction, yes. But this wasn’t a full-fledged love story. It was more about finding support and understanding in unexpected places, and a lot about trusting people when you are at your worst and welcoming them into your family. Zac and Mia’s friendship could have remained this momentary thing that happened in the hospital, but I think it was critical to their survival (throughout the book) that they lean on each other (despite distance).
All in all, I really enjoyed reading Zac and Mia. I loved the Australian setting, the time on Zac’s farm, and how unpredictably the story unfolded. The writing was fantastic, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Betts’ work in the future.