“So why are we leaving?…’Because I have things on my Loose Ends list, silly, and time is ticking. And I suppose I’m a little afraid to die. It brings me comfort knowing I ca go on my own terms.”
– Carrie Firestone, The Loose Ends List
Maddie O’Neill Levine wants to spend the summer before college tying up loose ends with her best friends – kissing boys and soaking up the last of the summer sun. Then her beloved grandmother drops a bombshell; she has been diagnosed with cancer. To spend quality time with her family, Maddie’s grandmother takes the whole family on a round-the-word cruise – but at the end of it, Gram might not return home.
Here is a story about love, loss and the power of forgiveness.
This is a really difficult book for me to review not because of the themes but because I liked and disliked it in equal parts. The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone is a beautiful story tackling a really controversial and sensitive topic however her main character is mostly self-absorbed, distasteful and frustrating. This book is the first one in the young adult section I have seen or read that deals with voluntary euthanasia or death-with-dignity – a surprising topic for teen readers!
Maddie Levine is a privileged, white, socialite teenager planning a ‘loose ends list’ (similar to a bucket list) of things she wants to complete before she goes off to college. Unfortunately, her grandmother announces she has terminal cancer and wants to take the whole family on an secret eight-week death-with-dignity cruise over the summer to celebrate her life and end it on her terms. The cruise consists of multiple locations all over the world. Along with her family – a cast of quirky characters – Maddie must overcome her fear of death and sickness to farewell her grandmother in style.
Maddie is an incredibly annoying character. She is pretty and popular, she doesn’t drink (unlike her ’sloppy’ friends) and is overly careful and safe. She is fearful of sickness and death and views the other patients on the cruise with wariness. She is completely self-absorbed and really selfish. “I’m Queen Bee because they say I strut around like a snobby teenager. I guess between that and scrunch face, I should get the hint.” Except she doesn’t! She is more concerned with falling in love and losing her virginity; her grandmother Astrid wants her to learn to live, and apparently living consists of having sex, smoking weed, getting a tattoo and learning to accept death. At one stage Maddie comments on the size of her uncle’s ‘package’ – is this really necessary?
In complete contrast to this, Firestone’s treatment of the patients and their stories, experiences and illnesses are beautiful. She is empathetic, sympathetic, and respectful of their choices. I love that this story is all about celebrating life. There is a really lovely line that says, “one woman explained it as wanting to find as much meaning in the act of dying as she did in the act of living.” There are some seriously sweet moments and some very sad ones that had me tearing up on public transport, over and over again. Thanks to an unlimited money supply, there are no expenses spared when it comes to giving the patients and their families as many opportunities to celebrate and enjoy what time they have left as possible. I don’t understand how an author can write such a stunning story with such an unlikeable main character. I don’t believe she redeems herself either… however by the end of the book I was so annoyed with her that I may have missed her turning point… if there was one!
Overall, I think The Loose Ends List is definitely worth reading. Other readers may not find the protagonist quite as annoying as I did… I guess we just have very different ways of looking at things! I think it is quite a brave topic to write about and I really believe she treated it with the respect it needed! This book comes with a don’t-read-on-public-transport warning… tears are definitely inevitable!
AUTHOR: Carrie Firestone
PUB DATE: June 16
Thank you to Hachette for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!