Book Review: The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone


The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. 352 pp. 

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.

Let’s start by talking about the NOVL newsletter, shall we? Not only are the folks at NOVL as ecstatic about books as I am — mayyybe even more so — they give away advance copies of books on a regular basis. There’s an entry form in the newsletter, and if you’re selected, you don’t get an email to notify you: a book shows up, out of the blue, at your door. This is the best. surprise. ever. I’m not one for unexpected company of the human variety, but if a book shows up at my door it will be welcomed with open arms.

It’s always a nice surprise to receive a free book, but it’s oh-so-much better when said book is good. And The Loose Ends List is better than good. It’s beautiful and fierce and heartbreaking.

The way that Maddie and her family joke, fight, and have the time of their lives together made me miss my cousins and how much time we spent together when we were kids. People move and life gets in the way, and all of a sudden the people you love so much become a thought bobbing in your brain: I wonder how she’s doing. I should really call her. And we (at least, I) never make the time. I admired Maddie’s grandmother for her desire to have the whole family together one last time, and I was envious of them all for having that opportunity.

Maddie’s relationship with her grandmother is touching: respectful yet irreverent, and so full of love. My mom is my best friend, and I can’t (don’t want to) imagine saying goodbye to her. I can’t imagine dragging a goodbye out for an entire summer, not knowing when it was gong to happen. I thought Maddie’s grief was portrayed well and realistically; she tries to distract herself from it for as long as possible, then it all comes slamming down.

Because all of the other patients on the ship are also terminal cases, I knew I was going to have to say goodbye to them all, but I still wasn’t ready when it started to happen. I was a mess for the last fifty pages or so of this book, and though I was sad, I was also moved to make every moment count with the people I love. The ship’s motto, “And still we dance,” captures this book in a neat four-word package that brings so many snapshots and “snow globe moments” to mind. The characters in this book aren’t perfect, but they are alive — practically leaping off the page — and they will worm their way into your heart.

All in all: A gorgeous book. Worth reading…then re-reading when you start to take life (and people) for granted.


Review: Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood

Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood. Poppy. 304 pp.

Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood. Poppy. 304 pp.

Fourteen-year-old nerd-boy Dan Cereill is not quite coping with a reversal of family fortune, moving house, new school hell, a mother with a failing wedding cake business, a just-out gay dad, and an impossible crush on the girl next door.

His life is a mess, but for now he’s narrowed it down to just six impossible things…

I’m hesitant to tell you this, because it lowers my odds, but here goes: Novl has a newsletter (I’m not sure of the frequency…maybe monthly?) in which they often host giveaways. Generally, you have to fill out a request form, and if you’re one of the first however-many entrants (the number changes based on how many copies they’ve got), you’ll get a review copy in the mail. The exciting thing about it is that you aren’t notified ahead of time; you just check your mail one day, and — BAM! — there’s a book at your doorstep. It’s wonderful.

I’d actually forgotten about entering to receive Six Impossible Things, so I was doubly excited when it showed up a couple of weeks ago. I’m going to take a page out of Dan’s book and write this review in list form.

Things I Liked About This Book:

1. The cover. I love watercolor-y cover art.
2. The title. I love the hope behind the idea of believing six impossible things.
3. Dan’s shyness. Usually, shy kids in books are made out to be huge geeks (and those are some of my favorite characters…maybe ’cause that’s my demographic?), but sometimes shy kids are just quiet and socially faltering. And I appreciated that about Dan.
4. Dan’s friends. They’re dryly funny in the best ways.

Things I Loved About This Book:

1. The phrase “odd sock.” I’dnever heard it before, but it wiggled its way into my heart immediately.
2. Dan’s mother’s faltering wedding cake business and the way she kept talking customers out of getting married. It’s exactly what I imagine a woman in her situation would do, and it was funny and sad all at once.
3. How squirmy I felt about the way Dan initially got to know Estelle (I don’t want to spoil it for you). It kept me wondering how he would ever come back from that one.
4. The mondegreen “There’s this sky I like,” which now crosses my mind whenever I see a beautiful sunset. It’s the cutest mishearing I’ve ever encountered.

Things I Wasn’t So Crazy About:

1. The title, Six Impossible Things, is phrase from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, my favorite book, so I was disappointed that Carroll’s work didn’t get so much as a nod.

Wow…that’s the only thing I didn’t like. I didn’t realize that until making a list (like Dan — and Rory Gilmore — I’m a big fan of lists).

All in all: I flew through this one! An adorable story, told well. It’s for ages twelve and up, so the language can be a bit simple at times, but the dialogue is excellent and the story is sweet and wonderful.