Book Review: A.J. Betts’ Zac & Mia

Posted August 31, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: A.J. Betts’ Zac & Mia

Zac and Mia


A. J. Betts

fiction in Hardcover edition that was published by Text Publishing on September 2, 2014 and has 304 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Realistic fictional romance for 14+ teens and revolves around two teen cancer patients in a hospital in Perth, Australia.

Thanks to A.J. Betts, NetGalley, and Text Publishing for providing this ARC for me to cry over and hope. I know it’s fiction, but oh, I do want to know how things come out.

In 2015, Zac & Mia was nominated for the Dioraphte Jongerenliteratuurprijs for vertaald boek; in 2014, it was nominated for the Inky Awards for Gold Inky; and, it won the Text Prize for YA and Children’s Writing in 2012 and 2015 — and I can certainly understand why!

My Take

Wow, Betts sucked me in behind the scenes in this cancer ward. She made me feel Zac’s frustration with all the medical restrictions and how much time he’s spent in this bed, all without telling me. It does make you laugh as he recites the routine of new patients coming in, the routine of the floor, heck, Zac’s practically got all the patient dialog down before they say it, lol. Five words, just five, and oh man, if that isn’t a show that describes and tells us so very much about this guy: “I’m a human light bulb.” You have to laugh through the tears.

It’s not just the hospital that Betts makes us feel t’home at. It’s Zac’s farm and his family as well. It’s cozy, laidback. Worried. Hopeful. You want things to turn out well for this family.

Zac is such a sweetheart, so goodhearted and patient, that you can’t help but fall in love with him, and it sucks you in deeper as the story goes along. I cracked up about Helga; Zac does find humor in the oddest things. B movies, cereal lookalikes, practical survival tips like grilled cheese with catsup and mouthwash. It’s roo poo golf! We sure learn more than I want to know about the concerns a leukemia patient has, poor kid. And his mum is so patient. She’s so amazing in her cheerfulness and attempts to keep Zac from boredom.

“‘If I were a breakfast cereal, which one would I be?’

‘In personality or appearance?’ She doesn’t miss a beat.


‘Lately? Verging on a Fruit Loop.'”

There’s such a camaraderie between some of the patients and the nurse on the floor. And I can certainly understand how they’d be pulled together in a common cause. It does seem unfair that only the children’s ward gets all the pretty colors and access to all the fun visitors while Zac gets access to the Internet and obsesses over the numbers. He knows ’em all with respect to death, remission, chances of all sorts, including Cam’s chances of not coming back. And Cam is such a cheerful upbeat guy. He wants Zac to come surfing. He’s got the board all picked out for him.

Mum cracked me up with her request that Zac “friend” her — she’s only got 14 friends! Then there’s Mia with all her friends, ones she’s lyin’ to. Hmmm, it is a curious question. What does happen to a dead person’s Facebook page? And Betts has a poetic way of asking.

It’s Zac who promises Mia she’ll be okay. He encourages her and peps her up, a woman, a girl really, who doesn’t want to hear it. Mia is so angry at everyone. There’s all this suspense, avoidance with Mia who runs away from home. Rejection, anger, hate.

It’s really hard to like Mia. She’s mean, nasty, demanding, selfish, and on the run all the time whether it’s metaphysical, mental, emotional, or physical. All the worth she thinks she has is her beauty. Enough so she doesn’t believe Zac. Enough that she begins to think her mother loves her.

Zac does note however that “Mia’s got a knack for keeping me in the surprising, glaring present. Exactly where I’m supposed to be.”

It’s also a truth of symptoms. Putting off that doctor’s visit because it seems so minor. Then the big fake-out…it’s enough to make you cry.

All Zac wants, what he dreams of, is being left alone, not reminded of his cancer. He also wants to keep Mia’s spirits up. No matter what. Even if it takes a Make-a-Wish.

“I’m the least brave of everyone. I never signed up for this war. Leukemia conscripted me, the fucker.”

The Story

Whoever’s come into Room 2 is not following the standard practice, and it has Zac curiouser than a cat in front of a mousehole. He also is worried about not letting on how interested he is to his mum. God knows there are enough embarrassing topics his mum wants to discuss.

Mia is not bored enough. Nope, she’s angry at her cancer and furious with her mother.

The Characters

The cricket and football playing Zac Meier, a.k.a., Helga, has leukemia and is in for a second round of treatment. Mum, known as Wendy to the grown-ups, the Unofficial Welcoming Committee of the oncology ward, is with him 24/7, and Zac is always coming up with errands for her to give himself some space. Bec is his oldest and pregnant sister, and she works on their farm, The Good Olive! Olive Oil and Petting Farm, with their dad, Greg, and Evan. Anton is her partner, only he’s not on the farm right now. Aunty Trish lives in Perth and is a survivor herself. J.R. is Zac’s Jack Russell. Daisy is the old alpaca.

Mia Phillips is the new girl who’s heading into year 12 next year, and she’s training for a Diploma of Beauty Therapy. Shay (Brandon is her boyfriend) and Chloe are two of her girlfriends; Erin and Fee are additions. Rhys Granger is her boyfriend, for a while anyway. Ross is her mother’s current boyfriend. Chris was Mia’s dad; it’s a trip down memory lane when Mia and her mother head down to The Good Olive!

Cam is an electrician who surfs. He’s also relapsed with his tumor.

Nina and Veronica, she has the big hands, are the nurses on his floor. Dr. Aneta is his doctor. Patrick is the psychologist.

Sienna Chapman, Clare Hill, Alex, Matt, Rick, and some of his classmates. Macka is his coach.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a very pale yellow background with the title forming the eye of this daisy and multi-colored petals surrounding it with a few beginning to fall away. The author’s name is at the top.

The title is basic and to the point, for the story revolves around Zac & Mia.