Zac & Mia By A.J Betts

Zac And Mia
Written By A.J Betts
Published July 24th 2013
272 Pages
Thank you to Text Publishing
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The last person Zac expects in the room next door is a girl like Mia, angry and feisty with questionable taste in music. In the real world, he wouldn’t, couldn’t, be friends with her. In hospital different rules apply, and what begins as a knock on the wall leads to a note, then a friendship neither of them sees coming.

You need courage to be in hospital; different courage to be back in the real world. In one of these worlds Zac needs Mia. And in the other Mia needs Zac. Or maybe they both need each other, always.
It's been ten months since Zac's life changed. Always feeling tired and unwell, he was admitted into Perth's oncology ward and since, his life has been a flurry of tests, precautions and animal hair clips, courtesy of nurse Nina. Zac has been in confinement since his bone marrow transplant, his mother never leaving his bedside. His mother is the unofficial welcoming committee on the ward, if something is going on, she'll know all about it. Need a shoulder to cry on? She'll come baring scones and tea. But a new resident? Surely she would have been told. The walls adjoining Zac's room one and room two are paper thin, the raised voice of a young female penetrates the wall, followed by the thumping beat of Lady Gaga. Dealing with having cancer is traumatic enough, but it's still no excuse for a bad taste in music. But Zac's been there and knows exactly how the new resident is feeling. It's a world he needed to navigate when diagnosed with leukemia, the chemotherapy hadn't worked, so now he finds himself in isolation, with German marrow in his bones, wondering if he'll morph into a buxom beer wench before the five weeks is over.

When the Lady Gaga song begins again for the twentieth time on repeat, Zac knocks on the adjoining wall... The music stops and the tapping begins. Just knowing there is someone on the other side of the wall, knowing how they're feeling and only being separated by six centimeters of plaster, still feels like a world away. Since the night of tapping, there's been no sound from the other side of the wall, apart from the occasional raised voice between the girl and her mother, until Zac can feel he's being watched. Peering inside Zac's room is the girl, and Zac can't look away. The new girl is only seventeen, diagnosed with osteosarcoma localised in her lower leg. Zac deals in statistics, searching the internet for death rates, percentages and worse case scenarios, and the new girl is lucky in comparison.

Zac tries to communicate via notes with Mia next door, but when she passes a copy of her Lady Gaga disc under the door, is she assuming that Zac is gay? The nurse on duty relays valuable information, but sadly no return note. That Mia is moody, she won't eat, she's shut the outside world out and the way she speaks to her mother... She's fighting everyone around her and Zac is in no position to help. But Mia leaves and her room is occupied by another patient, Cam, who's in for another round of treatment. Zac wants to keep in contact with Cam, so passes along his mobile number and Facebook account, but when Cam moves into another room to make way for Mia's return, Zac finds himself with a new Facebook friend request. It's strangely comforting to have only six centimeters of wall between them, and as soon as he accepts Mia's friend request, the tapping begins. On further inspection of Mia's page, there is no mention of cancer or chemotherapy, her friends under the impression that Mia isn't sick. The two begin chatting on Facebook, finding a strange solace in one another in the early hours of the morning.

With only days before release, Zac finds himself with a virus that his body is struggling to fight, and all alone as he needs to be isolated, even from his mother. Armed with his iPad and thoughts of the girl on the other side of the wall, Mia decides to contact Zac by phone. The two nervous teens talk long into the night, Zac sharing his obsession with Google death statistics and aims to make Mia feel at ease. But Mia isn't coping, her hair is falling out with treatment and decides to take her frustration out on Zac, the only person that knows exactly what she's going through. But Mia's cancer isn't clear cut and treatment isn't working, the specialists are suggesting a limb salvage.

Now that Zac is back at home on the olive farm, he hasn't heard from Mia in months. On his last night in the ward, did he dream that Mia snuck into his room? He has no way of contacting her, she's removed her Facebook profile, and he regrets not learning more about her in the early morning hours. How can she just vanish from his life completely?But when Mia turns up at the olive farm, running from her mother, the ex boyfriend that no longer wanted her after recovering and friends that have long since given up on her, she has no where else to turn. Rather than steal her way interstate, she's given a room and a bed by Zac's sister and slowly starts to open up. Mia isn't just hiding, she's running for her life. She believes that she has nothing and cannot hold onto her sense of self. But Zac is a fighter and may just show her how to live life again.

While Mia has the chance at a full and happy life, Zac's potential at relapsing in the next five years isn't as positive. But what the Google statistics don't tell you, when you have someone in your corner to fight for you, there isn't anything you can't survive.

Kelly's Thoughts

The story of Zac and Mia was one of the biggest challenges I've ever had the privilege of reading. It was funny, heartbreaking and poignant. A coming of age novel where two teens from different worlds, find themselves both battling cancer. I had read a few reviews before beginning Zac and Mia and the similarities between this and John Green's The Fault In Our Stars, as both were written in the same time frame, but apart from both basing the storyline around two teens with cancer that's where the similarities end. Zac and Mia is based in Australia, written by an Australian author and I found I could relate far more to the characters. It's not just the highs of beating a disease or the lows of Mia being in denial, but it was a far more thoughtful and positive storyline. It touched upon not only how each teen coped, but their families, how life changes and whether others see you as a victim or a survivor.

A.J Betts beautifully crafted a positive storyline, that felt realistic. I loved Zac's character, his attitude and outlook was intelligent beyond his years. The banter between Zac and his mother was simply brilliant. Zac asks for a hat similar to that of Ryan Reynolds, mum purchases one as worn by Burt Reynolds. I would love to see where Zac and Mia are in a few years, and unlike The Fault In Our Stars, you won't be left a hysterical mess.


  1. Lovely review Kelly, I have this one as well and great to see a positive review for it. I guess TFioS wasn't that realistic when it came to how they talked but glad this one is. Yay for aussie authors!

    Jeann @ Happy Indulgence

    1. Thanks Jeann. I think The Fault In Our Stars skipped over the confronting issues and romanticized the plot a little too much. Where Zac and Mia wasn't afraid to go there. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


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