The Loose Ends List, by Carrie Firestone (2016)

The Loose Ends List, by Carrie FirestoneHere’s another book where I seem to diverge from the collective views. Maddie is 18 years old and is looking forward to spending her post-high school summer with her best friends as they get ready for college. Her plans are upset when her beloved Gram calls the family together to announce she has cancer, and has booked them all on a world cruise, a “dying with dignity” cruise with other terminal patients and families, by the end of which all the patients will be gone. So let’s look at the good stuff first. This is a young adult novel tackling euthanasia with gusto. These patients choose when to die and a doctor on board gives them the final needle. YA lit often takes on tough topics, and this one is done really well. The agony of illness, the zest for living, the grief – first-time author Firestone navigates these potentially dangerous waters (sorry, I couldn’t resist) skilfully. Her characterization is strong – I enjoyed Gram immensely, along with Maddie’s slutty cousin Janie, her gay uncles Wes and Billy, and fellow passengers Paige and Burt. Despite the seriousness of the theme, humour abounds. I literally laughed out lout several times, which is a great sign. But I couldn’t get past the privileged white world that drives this story – without all that money, none of this would be possible, and it gets in the way. I was annoyed as hell when Maddie and her mum buy shoes in Rome to apologise to the saleswoman, and Wes is mugged while carrying $1000 in cash in Rio in case they did some late-night shopping. Maddie has Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which contributes nothing to the story other than increasing her anxiety and providing some tasteless jokes. She’s also a typical teen – subject to fits of unreasonable jealousy, adolescent pouts of pissiness, and a self-preoccupation that must drive her family nuts. Heck, that’s what being a teen is, and Firestone nails it. But it means my protagonist is the least likeable character, and that’s never any fun. And finally, there’s an onboard romance that distracts Maggie from the pain of why she is on the ship. While Firestone avoids an inappropriately happy ending, it still felt like this book went on way too long. So it’s a mixed review for me. Kirkus gave it a starred review, so check that out here.
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