Review: Zac & Mia (Betts)

I’ve wanted to read Zac & Mia for quite awhile now! The author, A.J. Betts, came to our school last March and went down like a storm. She was interesting, funny, and well-prepared for the presentation, and I highly recommend her for a visit if your school can get her. During the presentation, she completely sold me and the teens in the audience on Zac & Mia. We got 5 copies of it for the library, and they have since stayed consistently checked out. Some have even read it twice.

AUTHOR: A.J. Betts
SERIES: none
PUBLISHER: Text Publishing
ISBN: 9781922147257
PAGES: 310
SOURCE: Audiobook Sync and purchased Kindle copy
GENRE: contemporary fiction
SETTING: Australia, modern day
GIVE IT TO: HS; possibly upper-MS


Seventeen-year old Zac has spent plenty of time in the hospital after being diagnosed with leukemia last year. He knows the routine and the statistics for a teenager with leukemia. But his hospital days get much more interesting when 16-year old Mia, newly diagnosed with cancer, moves into the room next door.


What I loved most about Zac & Mia is that, while comparisons to The Fault in Our Stars are inevitable, I thought Zac & Mia was so much better. I’ve made no secret of how underwhelmed I was with TFIOS (easily my most controversial review).

I’ve worked with teens for 13 years and have two teenage boys of my own. I’m sorry, but Hazel and Augustus do not sound like teenagers–they sound just like John Green. Zac and Mia actually sound like teenagers; I can tell AJ Betts works with teens on a daily basis (she does).

I also really liked how slowly Zac and Mia’s relationship develops. Mia is a very angry young lady, and I personally was ready to choke her a couple of times. But she’s still likeable because her pain is so real. Mia’s character growth is complex and believable. Love, love, love!

I did not cry or even come close to that in predictable TFIOS, but I did have a moment of tears toward the end of Zac & Mia. The ending is perfect for this book.

There is some content that is probably not appropriate for middle school, but I did not know that and as I mentioned, this book has made the rounds at my school. I’ve had no parent complaints so far.

For me, mature content isn’t something I worry much about. I work in an international school in China, and our international parents are nowhere near as uptight about what teens read as they were in my Texas schools. But I know many middle school librarians do try to keep it to a minimum. If you are concerned about mature content for middle school, this book definitely has it.

High school English teachers looking for a YA book to examine themes and symbols will find lots of good ones in Zac & Mia. The representation of mothers (Zac’s mom, Mia’s mom, Zac’s pregnant sister, the farm animals, the fox trying to feed her babies), the emphasis on life and death on the farm, all the things the fox symbolizes (death, life, mothers, survival, nature). Lots of discussion material for book clubs and classrooms.

THEMES: friendship, cancer, mother-child relationships, teens with long-term illness

THE BOTTOM LINE: Don’t miss it. It’s relatively short, meaningful, and beautifully-written. It’s been a whopping hit at my school, thanks to the author visit and word of mouth. We even had some teachers raving about it.

STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: It’s popular. We have 5 copies, and they stay checked out.


  • Overall: 5/5
  • Creativity: 5/5
  • Characters: 5/5–characters are especially well-drawn
  • Engrossing: 5/5
  • Writing: 5/5
  • Appeal to teens: 5/5
  • Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5


  • Language: high–multiple F-bombs, sh**
  • Sexuality: medium-high–Mia was previously sexually-active and does not hold back talking about that. Between Mia and Zac, there is nothing more than a kiss and lots of cute flirting.
  • Violence: none
  • Drugs/Alcohol: mild; cancer medications, Mia mentions being drunk in past
  • Other: Mia contemplates suicide a couple of times


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