Zac knows all the statistics about his leukemia—the survival rate, the chance the cancer will return even if his new bone marrow gives him a temporary clean bill of health. But he’s still hopeful he can get back to his old life after months in solitary with only his mother for company—his mother, and the faceless girl fighting her own battle next door.

Mia is angry—angry she has cancer, angry the treatment makes her so sick, angry her doctors and mother don’t seem to understand she just wants the treatment to be done so she can get back to her friends. The only one who seems to understand, even a little bit, is the boy in the other room. He knows nothing about her except that a sore ankle led to her cancer diagnosis. He calls her lucky—she has good odds.

Then Zac goes home to try to regain his pre-cancer life, and Mia goes home with so much less than she ever dreamed. Inevitably they end up together again—Zac desperate to help, and Mia desperate to run from everything.

It’s almost impossible for a book about two teens fighting cancer to escape a comparison to The Fault in Our Stars, and on a very surface level the two books share DNA: sick teens falling in love, sometimes angry, sometimes hopeful, sometimes resigned. What Zac and Mia does best, however, is capture the feelings of loneliness and isolation. Mia’s need to pretend her cancer doesn’t exist separates her from her friends even as she interacts with them online, and when the reality of her illness catches up with her she finds it impossible to connect with her former friends, who have nothing heavier than a zit weighing on their minds.

Zac and Mia is much more than a book about illness; it's a book about learning to trust a person, and trusting they can care about you when you feel completely unlovable.

 

Molly Horan has her MFA in writing for children and young adults from The New School.

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