Friday, 24 October 2014

Zac & Mia by A J Betts

Zac & Mia by A J Betts is a contemporary YA novel about two teens with cancer. That said, I feel obliged to point out that the similarity with The Fault In Our Stars doesn't go much further than that. (But clearly, comparisons will be continue to be inevitable for any books with teenagers and cancer for some time yet.)
The last person Zac expects in the room next door is a girl like Mia, angry and feisty with questionable taste in music. In the real world, he wouldn’t—couldn’t—be friends with her. In hospital different rules apply, and what begins as a knock on the wall leads to a note—then a friendship neither of them sees coming.

You need courage to be in hospital; different courage to be back in the real world. In one of these worlds Zac needs Mia. And in the other Mia needs Zac. Or maybe they both need each other, always.
The first thing I want to talk about is the clever way in which the story is told with regards to point of view. The first third ("Part One: Zac") of the story is told from Zac's point of view, the second third ("Part Two: And") is told from alternating points of view and the final third ("Part Three: Mia") is told from Mia's point of view. On the one hand, this means that for most of the book it feels like Zac is the more central character — because he comes first — but on the other hand I've decided it was an effective way to tell Mia's story. Zac's story is much more straightforward and we learn just about everything we need to know about him up front. Mia, conversely, starts off as a mystery only glimpsed from Zac's restricted hospital room and it wouldn't make sense to present her any other way.

Australian cover (Text Publishing)
Zac is the more easily likeable character, whereas when we first meet Mia she comes across as a petulant teenager who doesn't realise how lucky she is (to have a relatively easy to deal with cancer). It's not until we get to the last third that we really learn enough about Mia's past to understand where she's coming from. I had tried, while reading, to reserve judgement until we knew all the details about her and I'm glad I did. It would have been so easy to hate her for all sorts of reasons (and honestly I'm a bit surprised Zac put up with her issues so willingly). Having said that, I suspect that if the genders had been swapped there would be a lot less male-Mia bashing on goodreads.

I enjoyed Zac & Mia. It was a quick read which I wasn't keen on having to put down. Zac's bits, in particular, were quite amusing at times and Mia's bits touched on some difficult issues. It was also nice to see how very Australian the setting was. I read the US edition so there were some "translations" (can anyone tell me what the "corn dog" bit was in the original? Were they just talking about dodgy petrol station hot dogs? But don't they also say "hot dog" in the US? I have to know!) but it was still an undeniably Australian book. The Perth and olive farm settings were particularly strong and made me want to visit Perth (which I will be next year, so yay). Except one thing confused me about the farm: there's a lot of climbing through windows, none of which seemed to have fly-screens. WTF? Does Western Australia magically have fewer insects than the rest of the country? It wasn't something that bothered me unduly, it was just... odd.

So I highly recommend Zac & Mia to fans of contemporary (non-spec fic) YA. I would also recommend readers not be too quick to judge Mia. While I wouldn't say this was a happy read — it is about kids with cancer — it wasn't as depressing as, say The Fault in Our Stars and the source of the depressing bits wasn't necessarily cancer. (Although, yes, OK, the cancer part was depressing as well.) It's also not a romance story, though there is a small underlying romantic thread.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2013 Text Publishing, US edition September 2014 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group
Series: No, standalone.
Format read: eARC of US edition
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge


  1. I've heard LOTS of great things about this book. Looking forward to reading it.