A.J. Betts

Zac and Mia

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Zac and Mia Summary

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Set in Perth, Australian author A.J. Betts’s young-adult coming-of-age novel, Zac and Mia (2013), follows two cancer-stricken seventeen-year-olds, Zac Meier and Mia Phillips, who share adjoining hospital rooms as they are treated for their illnesses. While Zac and Mia have nothing in common and would never get along in the outside world, over time, they find common ground, forging an unbreakable bond of friendship. Divided into three parts: “Zac,” “And,” and “Mia,” the story is told in alternating perspectives between Zac and Mia’s point of view. Thematically, the book explores friendship, family, love, hope, overcoming hardship, and coping with terminal illness. School Library Journal called Zac and Mia, “its own smart, well-crafted story about the importance of friendship and feeling understood,” while Kirkus Reviews said, “It’s the healing powers of friendship, love and family that make this funny-yet-philosophical tale of brutal teen illness stand out.” In 2017, Zac and Mia was adapted into a television series by AwesomenessTV.

The novel begins with first-person narration from seventeen-year-old Zac Meier, who has been admitted to the hospital in Perth, Australia. A sweet, once-athletic farm boy who has been diagnosed with leukemia, Zac is confined to a hospital bed, recovering from a recent bone marrow transplant. Other than his mother and his nurse, Nina, Zac is completely isolated from the rest of his friends and family, which he prefers because he does not want to see his family suffering from grief. Zac must remain isolated from November 18 to December 22 while the graft from his German donor properly heals. As a joke, Zac’s friends call him Helga because he now has German bone marrow. Terminally ill, Zac retains his silly side, remaining in good spirits. He spends his time in the hospital solving word puzzles and playing Call of Duty with his mom. But as the month passes, Zac grows weak, bored, and dispirited in the adult cancer ward. However, everything changes for Zac when he suddenly hears two females arguing, followed by a loud blast of Lady Gaga music blaring through the hospital walls. Zac is disturbed by the loud noise but suspects his new neighbor must be of a similar age.

Zac soon meets Mia Phillips, the beautiful but brash and argumentative seventeen-year-old girl being treated in the room next to his. Mia has a localized cancer tumor in her ankle, which means she has a far greater chance of survival than Zac. Mia has a 98 percent chance of survival, while Zac has a 55 percent chance. Zac loves numbers and to look up and memorize statistics relating to cancer survival. When Zac meets Mia, he thinks they have nothing in common. Finding Mia mean, loud, and annoying, Zac wants little to do with her. However, over time, Zac and Mia begin to communicate with each other through the walls of their hospital rooms. They start by tapping on the walls, then passing written notes, and finally cementing their kinship when Zac sends a Facebook friend request and Mia accepts. Zac tells Mia he has seven days left in the hospital. Mia tells Zac she is scheduled for surgery the next day. Over a few weeks, Zac and Mia grow closer to each other and begin a meaningful platonic relationship that helps them cope with their illnesses. However, they stop seeing each other when Zac is suddenly allowed to go home. Mia is released from the hospital shortly after her chemotherapy and a partial leg amputation. In parts two and three of the novel, the narrative shifts away from the Zac’s point of view in the hospital and focuses on Mia’s point of view outside of the hospital.

While apart, Zac and Mia continue to think about one another, missing each other’s companionship. Despite her tough, carefree attitude, Mia has deep-seated fears and anxieties about her cancer diagnosis. She copes much differently than Zac, who fights his illness with eternal optimism. Mia confesses to having difficulty at home and among the popular crowd at school to which she once belonged. Mia is used to having fun, going to parties, and being desirable to boys. Now she feels ugly, unwanted, hopeless, and extremely angry. Mia’s boyfriend, Rhys, left her once she broke the news of her cancer. She has never known her father. Mia learns that her father left her mother before she was born because they were both teenagers unready for parenthood. Mia lashes out at her mother and nurses, cursing her afflicted leg for disrupting her perfect life. The idea of going to school with one leg or a wig is too terrifying for Mia to bear.

Desperate for a ray of hope, Mia runs away and locates Zac at his rural home in Perth, which is surrounded by an olive farm and petting zoo. Zac welcomes Mia into his house but hides her from his family at first. Mia stays in Zac’s older sister, Bec’s, bedroom. After a few days, Mia decides she wants to stay at Zac’s house indefinitely. Her mother, very worried over her sudden disappearance, panics when Mia fails to respond to her text messages. After a while, Zac encourages Mia to call her mother to explain where she is and why she ran away. Mia eventually agrees, and Zac takes her back to the hospital for a checkup. Thanks to Zac, Mia reunites with her mother. At the end of the novel, Zac’s cancer returns and he is admitted back into the hospital. Mia learns to accept her fate while supporting Zac as he receives another treatment. Despite disliking each other, to begin with, Zac and Mia become the closest of friends in the end.

Zac and Mia was named the winner of the 2013 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing. In addition to Zac and Mia, Betts has written three novels, including Shutterspeed, Wavelength, and Hive.