My original plan was to have a quick look at the novel, perhaps read the first chapter or two, as part of preparing a guest post by author A J Betts here at Kids’ Book Review. That ‘quick look’ turned into a hectic weekend as I tried to grab reading time every chance that I got, including reading until the early hours of the morning, because I simply needed to know how the story unfolded for Zac, Mia and their families.
Zac and Mia, both in their final year of high school, meet in hospital where they are receiving treatment for cancer. Zac has undergone treatment before and now faces the trauma of isolation for a bone marrow transplant. Mia is a new patient, still in denial about the tumour in her leg that will require surgery.
Not surprisingly, Zac and Mia’s illness is central to the story, but it is their reactions to their illness and treatment, the reactions of their families, the way they view themselves and others, and their complex and evolving friendship that really drew me in. This isn’t merely a story of illness and mortality, it is a story about hope, beauty, courage, perspective and connection.
Zac & Mia doesn’t offer a warm fuzzy view of cancer treatment and recovery. There is no heart-warming miracle cure, no deathbed declaration of love and devotion. The story doesn’t whitewash the horrible reality of cancer diagnosis and treatment and the emotional impact it has on patients and those who care about them. It accepts these realities while also reminding readers that becoming a cancer patient doesn’t stop people from being individuals with hobbies, hopes, dreams, friendships and flaws. For me, this novel is about family and hope and the desire we all have to connect, a story about people, not just illness.
There are wonderful moments of humour and insight within the story. The voices of Zac and Mia, who share the narration of the story, are authentic and engaging. I kept reading not just because I wanted to find out if their treatments were successful, but because I wanted to know if they found the connection and understanding that they needed from each other and the strength they needed within themselves. I didn’t read just to find out if they were healthy, but to find out if they could find a sense of peace and purpose amidst the emotional chaos of their illness.
I found Zac & Mia to be a compelling story with characters that I truly cared about by the end of the novel, not only Zac and Mia, but also their families, particularly their mothers. The novel is confronting and heartbreaking at times, but it is also comforting and moving, a beautifully written portrait of our basic human need to connect. It’s a story that I’m glad I had the opportunity to read and one that I’m sure will linger with me for some time.
Zac & Mia was the winner of the 2012 Text Prize. There are teachers' notes available for this novel.
Title: Zac & Mia
Author: A J Betts
Publisher: Text Publishing, $19.99 RRP
Publication Date: 24 July 2013
For ages: 15+
Type: Young Adult Fiction