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Review: Zac & Mia (Betts)

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

SUMMARY: 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.

REVIEW: I’ve wanted to read this book for quite awhile now! The author, AJ 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.

What I loved most about this book 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 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.

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. That ending was 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, 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.

If I were still in high school and looking for a YA book to examine themes and symbols, Zac & Mia is full of good ones. 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

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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  • Hi! I have to write an essay about this book for school and my question is on the theme of Friendship. I was wondering if you still remember things about the book if you would be able to explain this theme in this book and if you can think of any examples? We have been doing activities in class on some other themes and ideas in the book but I don’t quite understand the friendship theme. If you can’t that’s all good I just thought since your review was so nice that you might know something useful, anyway thanks!

    • Hi, Jacinta,
      Yes, it’s been quite awhile since I read this one! One thing you might look at is why Zac and Mia became friends in the first place, and how that happened. One thing I remember is that they were the only two teens on the pediatric floor, and they connected first via social media. It might be interesting to explore how social media made it easier for Zac to “approach” Mia and get her talking.

      Hope that helps! Good luck with your essay!



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