Book Review: The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone

the loose ends list via paper trail diary

The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone, via Little Brown, out now.

[I received this book from Hachette Books Canada in exchange for an honest review; this did not affect my opinion of the book whatsoever.]

“Hey Mads, one more thing. I want to make sure you understand that this trip is not about poor, dying Gram.” She looks at me, her face serious. “That is not what I want from all of this. I want to have some laughs, and get you people out of your boring little lives. This is not about dying. It’s about living. Do you understand?”

Maddie is so close to finishing high school when she finds out that her beloved grandma has pancreatic cancer. But not only that – Maddie’s grandma, Astrid, has booked the entire family for an eight week summer ‘vacation’ on a death with dignity cruise to see her off in style. From Maddie’s Loose Ends List of things to do before she starts university, in which she had crossed out ‘change hair colour,’ to Astrid’s list that takes the family all over the world in order to say goodbye, you could say Maddie’s boat has been rocked.

Maddie is the kind of pretty girl who doesn’t drink but drives all her sloppy best friends home from parties, the kind of girl who is the proper popular girl in school. (So I got a kick out of her being brought down a few notches by randomly mentioning that she has IBS. *shrug*) Maddie is careful, focused and safe. She has a ‘scrunch face.’ She’s a bit self absorbed. Astrid wants their adventure to show Maddie how much she can be living by taking risks, jumping in head first and not asking questions. (So, obviously, this includes hooking up with someone, smoking weed, getting a tattoo and learning to accept death.) It is interesting to be along for that mental process.

Maddie belongs to a dysfunctional family which includes her drunk mom, boring dad, stoner brother, sexy cousin, senile aunt and gay uncles. Each of them have something to overcome on this adventure, and they all learn new things. Some of them take a front seat in the story, which I liked. And I enjoyed how ridiculous Astrid is, though I could never imagine my grandma acting that way. What I liked the most though was how the family interacts with the other families on the cruise – the ones who were dying and the ones who love them. It gives them perspective.

Maddie and her family have lived a pretty privileged lifestyle, and to be able to say goodbye to a loved one in such an extravagant way is quite a finale. Astrid’s wealth is never really explained, but it is endless enough that it can generously help every main character out. I’m talkin’ Astrid not only paid for 10 people to travel the world, but she also helps bankroll the cruise ship and has arranged to leave a significant amount for everyone once she passes. But it’s quite clear that we’re not supposed to be thinking about the money here, we’re supposed to be thinking about how people can learn and grow, it’s just something that stuck with me. Is this really realistic? Should it be?

When I started reading the book, I enjoyed its silliness and fluffiness. I was excited to travel the world through the characters. It was a pretty quick read, but around the middle it started to plateau and I was a little impatient and annoyed. I had a bit of a hard time keeping track of characters and locations because there were so many. It’s definitely a summer read – it’s cool to read books in the time frame that they take place in, too – and it’s best if you just abandon control and go along for the ride. There’s romance, adventure, and family problems galore! A winning mixture. This book also won major points from me because it’s the prettiest cover I’ve seen all year! I can’t stop looking at it!

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