arc review · contemporary · little brown · the novl

ARC Review: The Loose Ends List

Title: The Loose Ends List
Author: Carrie Firestone
Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Publisher: The Novl / Little, Brown
Format: ARC*

“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.”

This is one of those rare instances in which all of the ingredients are right, but the cake isn’t baked properly and thus the end result is an unsatisfying mess. I wanted to read The Loose Ends List because it’s billed as a book about “death with dignity” – when a person decides to end their life in order to relieve pain and suffering, often due to a terminal illness. Euthanasia is still a rather controversial topic, but I was impressed to see it tackled in an upcoming YA novel. I have strong personal opinions regarding this concept, and hoped that The Loose Ends List would do it justice. In terms of how death with dignity was represented, the weight of that choice and its impact upon everyone involved, I thought The Loose Ends List was spectacular. Lots of difficult but necessary conversations happen throughout this book, and I think it’s important to included “hard topics” in young adult literature. However, I have to be honest and say that I didn’t enjoy a single other thing about this book.

As I get older, it’s becoming increasingly clear that I have little natural sympathy for characters of extreme privilege, and an author really needs to work hard for me to care about their problems. The Loose Ends List epically failed in this regard. Our protagonist Maddie comes from an absurdly wealthy family, all of who are forced to go on a death with dignity cruise when their matriarch, Maddie’s Gram, announces she’s dying. I think Firestone intended to write the family as initially unlikable but ultimately a group you’d come to root for, but she utterly failed in the execution. I was continually amazed at how selfish and unbearable these characters were – from Maddie’s hateful aunt to her alcoholic mother to her cousin who’s straight up described as a slut. I mean, seriously. The entire family was simply too much, and written in such a heavy-handed fashion that I couldn’t believe Firestone actually tried to pass this off as a relatable family. No family should be this worried about whether their granddaughter/niece/daughter/cousin is still a virgin. 

Maddie was perhaps the worst of them all – an insipid girl whom Firestone strikes with IBS for seemingly no other reason than to include a handful of not-funny remarks. Maddie’s grandmother is dying, they are on a trip around the world which will culminate in her grandmother being laid to rest, and she falls for a cute boy in the span of a day. This infuriated me. Why, why ruin what could have been a heartfelt, emotional family story with a love story? Young adult books do NOT have to have romance every single time, people. And in this case, Maddie’s whirlwind romance with a boy who sounds like a total loser and shames her for being a virgin insured that by the time Gram died and Maddie was more distraught over losing her boyfriend, I did not feel an ounce of sympathy for a single character in that family. The other people on the cruise? Sure, those characters I actually cried for. But I couldn’t stand the family at the heart of this story, and that ultimately ruined any goodwill I harbored towards The Loose Ends List. 

Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

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