Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts is, yes, another young adult novel about two kids with cancer who become involved with one another. But it's quite distinct from The Fault in Our Stars, from characters to setting (Australia). Zac and Mia begins with a first-person section from Zac's viewpoint. Zac is in isolation in a hospital in Perth recovering from a bone marrow transplant. Zac is 17 and is in an adult ward. As the story begins he is feeling pretty good, and is getting bored. He is intrigued when he glimpses and hears a new patient in the room next door, a girl of about his age. Mia is in and out, having chemotherapy for a cancer in her leg. The two teens connect by tapping on their shared hospital wall, and eventually on Facebook. In later sections of the book, the reader also gets to hear Mia's first-person viewpoint.
Zac and Mia are kids who would never have met under ordinary circumstances. Zac lives on an olive farm five hours out of the city. Until becoming ill, he played sports, and helped out on the farm. He is close to his family, particularly his pregnant older sister, Bec. Mia, on the other hand, lives in Perth with her young single mother. She was, until her illness, a popular party girl, attending beauty school part time. She is not at all adjusted to having cancer. She hides her cancer from her friends, and fights bitterly with her mother and boyfriend. Despite their differences, the thing that Mia and Zac having in common, cancer, ties them together.
I thought that Betts did a fine job of developing both Zac and Mia's characters. Their different strengths allow them to help one another in ways that are not immediately obvious. They both change over the course of the book, too, in response to both each other and their clinical diagnoses. Zac is more likable, I think. He's a teen boy, with a thing for Emma Watson, and keen sense of observation. He maintains a sense of humor about his situation. Here are a couple of snippets.
"Mum's not a four-wall kind of woman. As long as I can remember, she's always had a straw hate and a sheen of sweat. She's hazel eyes and sun spots. She's greens and browns and oranges. She's a pair of pruning shears in hand hand. She's soil and pumpkins. She'd rather be picking pears or fertilizing olive trees than stuck in this room, with its pink reclining chair. More than anything, she's my dad's soul mate, though she won't go home when I ask her--even when I beg her." (Page 20)
"The marrow's German--the doctors were allowed to tell me that much. I've had German marrow for fourteen days, and though I'm not yet craving pretzels or beer or lederhosen, it doesn't mean I'm not changed in other ways... " (Page 29)
"According to the bathroom mirror, I have no neck. Is it possible my German donor was, in fact, Augustus Gloop? Or has all the ice cream I've been eating gone straight to my chin?" (Page 32)
Then there's a lovely passage in which he says that he's not brave, which I think says everything that needs to be said about him. But you can read the book to find it. I didn't flag as many passages from Mia, but she did grow on me as the story progressed.
The Australian setting is different enough to pique the interest of US readers, without really feeling all that different at all. The hospital scenes are fairly universal, but Zac's family farm is full of "roos" and alpaca. There are some different food brands mentioned, but communication still takes place via text and Facebook, just as it does (or did until recently, anyway) here.
All in all, I found Zac and Mia to be an engaging relationship drama about two strong characters. Their cancer drives the plot, but Zac and Mia is about much more than illness. There is some language and sexual references, making this more of a high school book than a middle school book, I think. Recommended for library purchase, or for anyone who enjoys realistic young adult fiction.
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (@HMHBooks)
Publication Date: September 2, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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