Optimists Die First

Winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award

Award-winning author Susin Nielsen has written a laugh-out-loud and heartrending novel for fans of Robyn Schneider’s Extraordinary Means and Cammie McGovern’s Say What You Will.

Beware: Life ahead.

Sixteen-year-old Petula de Wilde is anything but wild. A former crafting fiend with a happy life, Petula shut herself off from the world after a family tragedy. She sees danger in all the ordinary things, like crossing the street, a bug bite, or a germy handshake. She knows: life is out to get you.

The worst part of her week is her comically lame mandatory art therapy class with a small group of fellow misfits. Then a new boy, Jacob, appears at school and in her therapy group. He seems so normal and confident, though he has a prosthetic arm; and soon he teams up with Petula on a hilarious project, gradually inspiring her to let go of some of her fears. But as the two grow closer, a hidden truth behind why he’s in the group could derail them, unless Petula takes a huge risk.

Editorial Reviews

“Narrator Julia Whelan expresses this YA heroine’s sardonic tone so well that sixteen-year-old Petula risks becoming an unlikable character. Thankfully, Whelan is also expert at conveying the story’s witty tone, Petula’s fragility, and the chemistry she has with Jacob…Whelan also portrays minor characters’ unique traits, preventing them from being flat characters who merely represent issues…Whelan balances grief and heartbreak with humor and hope. Winner of the AudioFile Earphones Award.”


Grief and guilt permeate Nielsen’s (We Are All Made of Molecules) empathic and deeply moving story, balanced by sharply funny narration and dialogue.Publishers Weekly, starred reviewAnother lovely outing from Nielsen.Kirkus, starred reviewNielsen excels at depicting troubled, clever teenagers in familiar environments.School Library Journal, starred reviewHeartbreaking and hopeful, this is a solid choice for readers looking for a book to make them cry and laugh at the same time.Starred Review, Booklist

Author Biography

Susin Nielsen, a Gemini Award–winning author, got her start writing sixteen episodes of the hit television show Degrassi Junior High, and four of the books in the Degrassi book series. Since then, she has received two Canadian Screenwriter awards and has written and story-edited many TV series, including Ready or Not, Madison, The Adventures of Shirley Holmes, Edgemont, and two animated series, What About Mimi and Braceface.

Reader Biography

Julia Whelan, winner of twelve AudioFile Earphones Awards, won the prestigious Audie Award for Best Romance Narration in 2013 and was twice a finalist for an Audie in 2015. She is a former child actor who has appeared in multiple films and television shows, most notably ABC’s Once and Again. After receiving her college degree, she returned to the film industry and is also a writer. Her audiobook credits include memoir, nonfiction, romance, supernatural thrillers, young adult, and adult fiction.

Titles by Reader > See all

  • Summary
  • Reviews
  • Editorial Reviews
  • Related
  • Author Biography
  • Reader Biography
Digital Audiobooks With Zero Restrictions