Title: The Loose Ends List
Author: Carrie Firestone
No. of Pages: 352
Genre: Young Adult; Contemporary Fiction
Origins: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: 7 June 2016
“Seventeen-year-old Maddie O’Neill Levine lives a charmed life, and is primed to spend the perfect pre-college summer with her best friends and young-at-heart socialite grandmother (also Maddie’s closest confidante), tying up high school loose ends. Maddie’s plans change the instant Gram announces that she is terminally ill and has booked the family on a secret “death with dignity” cruise ship so that she can leave the world in her own unconventional way – and give the O’Neill clan an unforgettable summer of dreams-come-true in the process.
Soon, Maddie is on the trip of a lifetime with her over-the-top family. As they travel the globe, Maddie bonds with other passengers and falls for Enzo, who is processing his own grief. But despite the laughter, headiness of first love, and excitement of glamorous destinations, Maddie knows she is on the brink of losing Gram. She struggles to find the strength to say good-bye in a whirlwind summer shaped by love, loss, and the power of forgiveness.”
My Thoughts: I don’t normally screen books for my daughter, but there was something about this one that made me pause before giving it to her. The age of the heroine and the subject matter were enough that I wanted to read The Loose Ends List before she did so that I could judge its suitability for her. I am so glad I did. While the message is important – living life to the fullest, learning that death is natural and can be beautiful, etc. – this is definitely not for younger teens.
There is something charming about Maddie but at the same time, she is a bit of a spoiled brat. She comes from money, and everything she says and does is a reminder of that. She has never had to worry about basic survival needs, making her concerns trivial in the grand scheme of things. Her prima donna attitude is a little too much to take at times, as is the hyper awareness of appearances, her own and others. In a story about the right to die with dignity, when other shipmates struggle with terminal illnesses and the costs incurred to battle them, the brand name dropping is rather disgusting.
Granted, there is a purpose to Maddie’s fashion and appearance obsession. It is the obvious method by which Ms. Firestone can show her growing maturity as Maddie learns some tough life lessons while on this trip. Yet, while Maddie learns to see the patients as human beings and to look beyond their illnesses, she never really loses the prima donna attitude that comes from money. Even though she matures, she remains a one-percenter, and it shows.
Then there is Maddie’s antics on the ship. Given everything she does, I would say that this is more of a New Adult novel rather than a Young Adult one. There is plenty of sex and alcohol, as befits someone of collage age. Thankfully, none of it is explicit because there is little chemistry between Maddie and Enzo. Ms. Firestone fails to capture the aspects of their relationship which would make it more believable and which would cause the reader to root for them after they leave the ship and go their opposite ways. There is plenty of lust and a profession of true love, but one is much easier to accept than the other. As for Maddie’s cousin, she is the stereotypical crazy party girl who sleeps with anyone and wakes up hungover more often than not. Privilege at its finest.
No matter how one feels about Maddie and her entourage, the patients on the ship are the highlights of the story. Their stories raise awareness of the “Dying with Dignity” campaign, but they also highlight the unfairness of life. The young mother with terminal cancer who postponed her treatment to have her baby. The dancer who is now trapped by ALS. The elderly couple still very much in love and faced with their impending parting. Ms. Firestone introduces readers to these characters and gives them the dignity they deserve. At the same times, she allows these characters to bring some much needed seriousness to this very bubbling and saccharine story.
The Loose Ends List is a breezy read. In spite of the seriousness of the subject, one could even term in a beach read because there is more levity than sobriety within the story. It is not a novel that crosses over well for adult readers, as Maddie is too frivolous and superficial for comfort. It is also not a novel for younger readers, as Maddie’s actions at the age of 18 are questionable and most definitely not role-model fodder. For the right age, The Loose Ends List provides readers with an easy way to confront mortality without being too pedantic or suffocating.