Review – Zac and Mia – A J Betts



As I’m sure you all know, each year Text Publishing awards the Text Prize for young adult and children’s fiction. You can read more about that here.

This prize, now in it’s sixth year, is awarded to unpublished manuscripts and has thus far unearthed the following titles.

2008 – Richard NewsomeThe Billionaire’s Curse 

2009 – Leanne Hall – This Is Shyness

2010 – Jane Higgins – The Bridge

2011 – Myke Bartlett – Fire In the Sea

2012 – AJ Betts – Zac and Mia

and recently announced 2013 – Diana Sweeney – The Minnow, which will be published in 2014.

Zac and Mia, published yesterday, is a book about bravery. Not clean, gleaming, heroic bravery, but a kind of snotty, enduring, isolated bravery found in hospital rooms, in late nights, in long drives and in making the best of every good moment – knowing that they’re going to be tempered with some pretty crap ones. It’s also about love.

I’ve heard this described as ‘sicklit’ which I think perfectly sums up this new genre (when did cancer become a whole genre??) of books about teenage cancer sufferer/survivors. There are already some great names in there – John Green for one with The Fault in Our Stars. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again here, that the best of these are by authors (such as Green, and now AJ Betts) who aren’t afraid to write it real. Authors who aren’t afraid to make their characters real (sometimes obnoxious, sometimes hilarious, sometimes devastating) teenagers. They’re not heroes just because they got sick. In fact there’s a great scene in Zac and Mia where Zac receives an award that he feels is undeserved and only awarded out of sympathy. It’s a wonderfully truthful and awkward moment which is the perfect catalyst for his subsequent rage.

Mia storms into the book nothing but rage. Our first introduction to her is her rage pounding through the walls into Zac’s hospital room. It’s her rage that pulls him from his sickness and into the present. It’s her rage that contrasts everything, shining a blinding light on the unfair, the underprepared, the unfinished. Zac knows that her chance is better, that she’s one of the lucky ones. But Mia doesn’t feel lucky, she feels alone, broken. And then Zac taps on the wall of her hospital room. He says ‘trust me’.

The relationship that grows between these two is beautiful. There’s a great balance of highs and lows in the book. Sickness is woven into each part of the narrative, and its interesting to see how the different character react to their own sickness, and to the sickness in each other. It’s interesting to see so many views on life, on living. It’s interesting, in so many ways, and it’s wrapped in a fragile love story between two characters who in all honesty would probably have never given each other the time of day if not for that single tap on a thin hospital wall.

But the wind steals the words from my lips and tosses them away. I’m glad they’re gone. AJ Betts writes with an enviable ease. There is a perfect balance between country and city, sick and health, fear and bravery on each page and in every interaction. None of the characters are wasted, and in reality it feels as though we are invited into a much larger world than the page count might suggest. As you might expect from a genre named ‘sicklit’, there’s a reasonable dose of tragedy, and of unfairness. There’s plenty of hope though and more importantly plenty of chances and choices.

I think you have to be brave to write a book like this. To write it without overt, condescending sympathy. And to be brave enough to write the moments that are funny, or grotty, or filled with rage, alongside those that are brave and heroic. It’s a book that is well deserving of a prize, and is likely to win many more.

***GIVEAWAY – Thanks to Text Publishing, I’ve got a copy of Zac and Mia to giveaway to a First Impressions reader. If you’d like to win* simply post a comment below telling me why you’d like this to be the next book on your reading list.

*Winners must be from Australia or New Zealand, although of course I welcome comments from anywhere on the blog! I’ll pick a winner within 7 days and will then get details and a postal address.

10 thoughts on “Review – Zac and Mia – A J Betts

  1. Thanks so much for this giveaway! I really enjoyed your review, just another reason I want to read it now! I only heard about this book yesterday. Text publishing put up a link on their twitter to a radio interview with A.J.Betts talking about Zac and Mia. In part of the interview she read an excerpt, and after hearing it I just hand to have it. What she read, and the other things she said in the interview, made me want to read it ASAP. I just know I am going to love it!
    I haven’t read too many ‘sick lit’ books, I can only read sad books at certain times, and not too often,but if this books has plenty of hope I am sure I will love it. The premise sounds amazing! I love character driven books where the author is true to life.
    All the YA books I have read from Text so far have been amazing and I doubt this will be any different. Now I’m trying to win it because I don’t have the funds right now to buy it. I was so excited to read that you will pick a winner within seven days because if I won I could be reading it so much sooner than I would if I had to buy it (which could be months and who wants to wait to read a book that sounds as amazing as this?)

    If I win you can contact me via my email

    Thanks again,

    • Hi Rochelle,
      Thanks for commenting! Yes it’s a really fantastic book and I really encourage everyone to get their hands on a copy. You’re very right that the Text Prize have picked some amazing winners – I actually just finished the runner up from a previous year ‘The Accident’ and I’ll be reviewing that soon here. It’s an intriguing book as well though and certainly a testament not only to the quality of work submitted to the Text Prize, but to the standards of the emerging writers here in Australia. Hardie Grant’s Ampersand Project are also unearthing some gems.
      I’ll be announcing the winner over the next few days and will let them know via email.

  2. Well Ms Kavanagh – this is praise indeed ! I’m really interested to read this – but I’m sure I will get my copy from Text soon. I really liked Amanda Betts and I’m pleased to hear you loved her book ! It’s a great review and I’m sure she will get a lot of fans .She will be visiting Melbourne mid August.

    • Great! Let me know if she’s going to be popping in and I’ll drop by for a coffee. Do read it when you have a chance, it’s a really extraordinary book – very authentically Australian I feel!

  3. I’m really interested in reading this book but I don’t like the term sicklit.
    Although the characters happen to have cancer, the focus of the book is on the isolation and falling in love (from what I understand).

    • Hi Karen,
      I’m not sure that I’m a huge fan of the term either, but I have heard it used to describe the ‘new’ genre that has been popular recently featuring characters with terminal illnesses. Hopefully my review makes it clear that this book is much more than a collective term like this one, and while I wanted to draw the connection to this, I wanted the focus to be on what I feel were the real strengths of the book, which are the genuine relationships between the characters and their journeys in and out of sickness, health, love, isolation, family and adulthood.
      Thanks so much for commenting, I’ll be announcing the winner sometime next week and contacting them via email so stay tuned!

  4. I love how you describe this book as real, grotty, snotty and not in anyway heroic just because the main characters happen to have cancer. The book sounds like it’s authentic, a worthy read.

  5. Thanks everyone for reading and commenting on this post! It’s been great to have such enthusiasm for what is really a wonderful read. I’ve picked the winner and they’ve been notified via email. If you didn’t win, I really do encourage you to get a copy of the book anyway, it’s so worthwhile. And I do run competitions like this from time to time, so if you’re not regular readers of the blog anyway, then keep the occasional eye out.
    🙂 Bec

  6. Pingback: TheRedCouch-Blog On Books - Zac & Mia

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