Thursday, August 1, 2013

Zac and Mia by A. J. Betts plus giveaway

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.

Zac & Mia is A. J. Betts third YA novel -- and winner of the Text prize. I was so looking forward to reading it (having enjoyed the humour and heart in her sophomore novel Wavelength) and, having won the prestigious Text prize, I knew to expect something great. 

Zac & Mia ended up surprising me. Betts took the book in a different direction than I expected and I really enjoyed the structure of it. The novel presents dual POV's, broken into three parts: Zac, Zac & Mia, and Mia. 

It opens with Zac's perspective, in hospital, and his chapters initially seemed slow and quiet and I was wondering when he would meet Mia face to face. Once I settled in I found my groove as a reader and, in hindsight, I could see just how well this set-up worked (different to what I had assumed, given the blurb). This initial chunk of the book really grounded the story and built a great platform for the ensuing events (which take place outside of the hospital). After finishing I had a greater appreciation for Zac's opening section.

While the cancer provided the meet-cute and catalyst for the story there is a lot more inside than just that. There is steady humour and plenty of heart. Quiet dramas and lots of fantastic settings: from Perth beaches to small country towns and Zac's family farm (lots of fun -- I really felt like I was there). Also plenty of secrets and revelations, and a road trip :)

I really appreciate how well Betts explored the themes. Not only did Betts explore the usual themes that come up in a novel about teens with cancer (life, death, luck, hopes, loss, boredom, pain, love, family) but her real triumph is in the way she portrays isolation and courage. 

Not just the physical isolation of hospitalisation for days on end, but the isolation that comes afterwards --when you are not the same and your head-space is so different to your pre-illness life that you can't fit in and be the same person that you were before. A really unsettling and isolating feeling for a teen (or anyone) to have to face.

The strength of Betts novel is how well she gets inside her character's head. Like many Aussie YA books, her characters felt real -- her dialogue is spot-on, the supporting characters truly shine in their own ways, and Zac and Mia's perspectives ring unique and true. Everything feels raw and real, completely grounded.

In a book that features cancer, authors can go an easy path and get cheap emotion but Betts kept it real the whole way and her book was stronger for it. The ending loomed ahead the whole time and (no spoilers) it surprised me just how perfect and true it felt.

Perhaps courage is simply this: spur-of-the-moment acts when your head screams don't, but your body does it anyway.Courage, or stupidity. It's hard to tell. (p238)

Zac & Mia @ goodreads
A J Bett's site
Zac & Mia @ Text Publishing


I am excited to be hosting a giveaway thanks to text publishing! This is for Aussie and NZ addresses - enter with your name and email in the form below. Closes August 10 -- I'll contact the winner via email.

Check out the rest of the tour for more reviews & chances to win:
Alpha Reader
First Impressions
Kids' Book Review
The Tales Compendium
Writing for Children
YA Midnight Reads
Obsession with Books

A. J. Betts is an author, teacher, speaker and cyclist. Zac & Mia, the winner of the Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing, is her third novel for young adults. Her others are ShutterSpeed andWavelength. She lives in Perth, and writes when she’s not pedalling.

Many thanks to Text publishing for sending me a review copy!