Zac and Mia, winner of the 2012 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing, is a book about cancer. But it's not a book about cancer.
Zac and Mia is a book about teenagers: normal teenagers, angry, self-doubting, Facebook-using teenagers.
Zac is annoyed by the girl in the room next door blasting Lady Gaga, self-conscious about the effects cancer treatment has on him, in love with Emma Watson. He's a cricket and AFL player and is insanely worried his hair will grow back red. He Facebook-stalks and instant messages at 3 am, he's embarrassed by the interest his mum and the nurses take in his bowel movements, he plays Call of Duty. He's a normal guy who has had the bad-enough luck to be diagnosed with leukemia.
Mia freaks out when her boyfriend isn't attracted to her and argues relentlessly with her mum. She planned her school formal outfit months in advance, has girls' night sleepovers, goes to music festivals. Sometimes she just wants to lie down and cry, be held; she wants to run away, to the end of the world. She's obsessed that no-one will ever see her without her wig, see her short hair, growing back slowly. She's a normal girl with bad enough luck to be diagnosed with osteosarcoma in her leg.
This book is beautifully written and rings true to the Australian teenager with little story-lines about Facebook, surfing, boyfriends, best friends, AFL, and the insult of winning 'Best and Fairest' because you spent the cricket season in hospital.
This book is a great new addition to the library of literary Young Adult fiction. The title it reminds me of most John Green's extraordinary, heart-breaking The Fault In Our Stars. Like Green's novel, Zac and Mia is a cancer book but not a cancer book. It is a love story, but more than a love story, and the characters will be instantly recognisable, especially to Australian readers. They live in your street, go to your school. If I had to choose a shelf for this book, I would put it with the other beautiful, heart-breaking, stab-you-like-a-knife, painfully real, fictions of the contemporary YA writers, David Levithan, John Green, Stephen Chbosky, and Courtney Summers. This book deserved the Text prize and it deserves to be read, again and again, by adults and young adults alike.