Trapped in the ICU at a hospital near Perth, Australia, Zac is desperate for any distraction. Anything that will get his mum to leave him alone for a little bit. Anything new to ponder. When the newest patient on the adult cancer ward turns out to be a surly but gorgeous girl, Zac attempts to reach out to her. Mia is all fire and fury, but Zac doesn’t give up. He remembers those early days of denial and anger. All he can do is tell her it’ll get better and hope he’s right.
The bond between the two seems dissolved when Zac is discharged, but still he can’t help thinking of her, hoping she made it through her recovery. Mia emerges in his life once more, still the angry, frightened girl. Zac’s desperate attempt to reach her changes his own life.
While a contemporary novel about two teens battling cancer probably sounds eerily similar to another popular story, Zac and Mia bears some surprises. Far from the supportive, team-oriented family one expects to surround a cancer-diagnosed protagonist, Mia’s single mom is as angry and resentful as she is. Zac’s own loving family comes with a few fabulous quirks, not least of which is the ownership of a popular olive farm and petting zoo.
I liked the off-beat nature of the narrative. Betts ignores stereotypes of kids-with-cancer stories and plows new ground. This is a story which delves deep into what it means to be a true friend to someone experiencing cancer treatment and the life-altering outcomes. It’s packed with warmth and heart, a great choice for readers who enjoyed The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E Smith.
References to sexual behavior, but no details.
Characters briefly discuss what happens after death. Zac is a pretty staunch atheist, but Mia believes there must be something more, that our souls continue after death, perhaps in heaven.
Brief references to teen drinking – though since the story is set in Australia, it’s legal to drink alcohol at age 18.