A.J. Bett’s Zac & Mia is a story about hope, friendship, and roadtrips – and much more than your standard YA cancer novel.

zac and mia coverZac and Mia could never be friends if they met at school, or at a party, in the real world. But in hospital there are different rules – especially when everyone else there is your grandparent’s age.

When Mia moves into the room next to Zac, he is fascinated. She is everything he isn’t, but might be exactly what he needs. Isolated and alone, Zac communicates through knocks on the wall, and then notes, and then phone calls.

Mia is just as unsure of their friendship, but Mia is unsure about everything these days. Zac may be physically isolated, but Mia has no one. And yet maybe this strange boy in the room next door can help her accept the bad luck that has befallen her.

Outside of hospital, everything is different. Maybe this is a friendship too fragile to exist outside the hospital bubble. How can Zac and Mia help the other understand what they are going through, when they are linked by something so terrible?

Review: ‘Zac & Mia’

Zac & Mia by A.J. Betts is a beautifully written story from dual perspectives. Despite both characters being written by the same author (fairly unique in an age of co-written books), Betts manages to convey their almost opposite personalities through her stylistic choices.

At the base of the novel is a friendship – often tentative, strained, ignored and depended upon. Zac and Mia are both such wonderfully believable characters that the friendship acts as a fluid connection between their separate stories.

Admittedly, both Zac and Mia are unlikeable at points of the story, but Betts is clever enough to balance these moments with the introduction of endearing secondary characters. More than anything, this is a novel about need – Zac and Mia are both there when the other needs them, and their character trajectories are mirrored – as one goes up, the other plummets.

There is a huge range of “sick-lit” on the Young Adult shelves, but you would be mistaken to dismiss Zac & Mia as simply more of the same. Betts treats the serious subject matter realistically (and sometimes more than you would wish, although we do appreciate the frankness of the writing).

And in the end, it isn’t really a novel about cancer. Cancer is how they meet, and cancer is a battle they face, but it is not the focus of the story, nor the point of it. Give Zac & Mia a chance, and you will discover a warm-hearted story and two unforgettable characters.

Zac & Mia by A.J. Betts was released today, 24 July 2013, in Australia. The book can be purchased through different retailers via Text Publishing.

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