Optimists Die First

4 CDs. 4:59 hrs. Listening Library. Feb. 2017. ISBN 9781524723040. $35. digital download.
Gr 9 Up—Sixteen-year-old Petula de Wilde is a pessimist. Champion of the worst-case scenario when it comes to all situations, from flying in airplanes to walking by construction sites, she feels it's her duty to warn others about the hidden dangers in just about everything. Petula even keeps a scrapbook of bizarre anomalies to support her claims. But she hasn't always been this way—before her baby sister died in a freak accident three years ago, Petula was a "normal" teen girl with a best friend and an obsession for crafting. Since the accident, her whole world has shifted, and her parents have problems coping as well. Enter Jacob, confident, good-looking, and with a keen desire to help others. Petula relaxes her defenses while falling hard for him, only to find out that he has damaging secrets of his own. Julia Whelan reads in a low-key, intimate way that makes listeners instantly relate to Petula. Other characters are performed well, and the many amusing sections of the audiobook are narrated with a light comic touch. Whelan's approachable rendering of the emotional problems Petula and her friends experience will engage listeners.
VERDICT Fans of moving, emotionally intense novels, such as the works of Sarah Dessen or Jennifer Niven's All the Bright Places, will enjoy this recording. ["Perhaps the novel's greatest strength is its handling of the characters' very real burdens with sympathy, wit, and not an ounce of melodrama. Nielsen excels at depicting troubled, clever teenagers in familiar environments": SLJ 11/16 starred review of the Wendy Lamb book.]

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