The Loose Ends List
Author: Carrie Firestone
Release: June 7th 2016
Genre: Contemporary, YA
First loves. Last Wishes. Letting go.
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.
Honestly, there are aspects of this book that I absolutely loved and adored, and then there are parts of it that were absolutely abysmal and made me want to gouge my eyes out. With a fork, slow and painfully.
Better start with the good stuff first, right? Okay, so for one, all the relationship dynamics and most of the character portrayals. They were unique, realistic and well-written. I just spent the whole day with my own crazy family yesterday, so I definitely felt a connection there as well. There are multiple sides to every relationship between every family member, which I felt was very genuine. Also, the relationships outside of family, with the other passengers on the Wishwell — though very chaotic, and, well, weird, after a while, they got to me, too. Especially Maddie's friendship with Paige was very lovingly done and wonderful.
I also really liked most of the messages this book sends out, especially about living and dying, about grieving and moving on and making a mark. I can definitely relate to that as well, and I think Firestone brought the point across beautifully and most of all, subtly. It wasn't an in-your-face kind of moment where the author tries to force philosophical bullshit down your throat, but it felt very authentic.
However, and this is where it already gets into the uglier parts of it all, I also think that the novel sent out different messages all at once about certain things. Like sex and sexuality. For one thing, it was definitely a part of the book, and a rather prominent part at that, which is great — I'm always all for that. But then there's the fact that Maddie's cousin Jane, who sleeps around a lot (which is no fucking problem at all) is constantly... well, made fun of, to be frank. She gets into a relationship with a guy from the ship, and the others continuously tell her she'll never be able to stay faithful and will cheat at the next opportunity. Which is kind of bad? And the narrative glosses it over so much? And also, with that, they implicitly do judge her for her "slutty" behavior, in a bad way? What the fuck? And then there's Maddie, who is a virgin at the beginning of the book, and who's always subtly compared to Jane for being morally better since she hasn't had sex yet — or at least, that's the vibe I got from it all. And it was all so damn problematic.
Then there's the relationship between Maddie and, well, her "boyfriend" and her "friends." She has this friend group called the "E's" (what the hell?), because all their names end with the "e" sound, but they never talk about anything other than boys and Maddie never does anything else with them other than going to parties and being their DD when they're drunk. They rarely talk about anything else other than boys, boys and, oh yeah, boys, but then again, they're part of the book for about 5-10%. Which just makes it all the more sad, because they're such a tiny part of the whole novel, when they're supposedly such a big part of Maddie's life, and then they play such an insignificant role after all. And then Maddie has this friend, who's her next door neighbor, called Rachel who understands her and her family, who she's been friends with since childhood and with whom she gets along swimmingly. They talk about deeper stuff than boys, but she's not cool enough to be her actual friend since Rachel is into "nerd stuff." What?!
Which brings me to my second biggest complaint (the biggest is to come after this), which would be Maddie herself. You know, there is a fine art to writing the perfect protagonist. Don't make them flawless, but also don't make them unlikable and/or unrelatable. She is 17, turning 18 during the events of the novel, and I believe Firestone set out with the intention of writing and portraying an actual teenager of that age. And she did, she really did. However, somewhere along the way, Maddie lost the likability. She turned out to be such a shallow, superficial, arrogant and immature child, and I just couldn't really stand her anymore after discovering this. She makes fun of her "E's", because they're obsessed with alcohol, sex and boys, even though they're her friends (supposedly). She makes fun of her cousin Jane for sleeping around so much, while at the same time being desperate to lose her own virginity. Maddie is a hypocrite and I simply didn't like her for it, because it was so glaringly obvious and the narrative never chastises her for being problematic, either. It's never portrayed as an issue, when it is. I would have liked for her to develop into a more mature young woman towards the end, but nope. Nothing.
And, finally... The absolute worst thing in this book is the romance between Maddie and Enzo. Honestly, I'm still having trouble believing that this shitty insta-love made it past the drafting stage. It should have been scrapped immediately. Okay, so here's how it goes: Maddie breaks up with her boyfriend during the first 10% of the novel, and then she sees a hot guy in the elevator on her first day on board. She obsesses about him for all of the next chapters, actively tries seeking him out and finding him on the ship like a crazy stalker, until she officially meets him at a club about 30% through. They immediately click, since he, much like her, has been thinking about her since the elevator too. Wow! What a dang surprise. How lucky she is. They talk all night and make out. On what is essentially the first date. After that, all they seem to do is make out. There literally is a scene where she goes to his cabin and not five seconds later they're making out against the wall. I am not joking, the book explicitly states it takes five seconds. I'm sorry, but where's the slow-burn? When and where did they develop those big, grand feelings for each other they claim to have a hundred pages later? What the fuck. What the fuck. What the fuck. I mean, sure, they talked a lot, apparently. The novel tells us that they do, but it never explicitly tells us WHAT they really talk about that much. They just kiss and fuck. That's it, and I'm sorry folks, but that's not the great love. That is toxic and unhealthy.*
There's a word we have in German, called "Fettnäpfchen." Literally translates into "fat bowl." A little visual for you here: Imagine that there's a big, fat bowl of poop in front of you, and you're visiting the president at the White House. You (more or less) deliberately step into the bowl of poop and leave poop footprints all over the White House, which is a hassle for your hosts to clean up afterwards. THAT's what this book does. It steps into so many fat bowls of poop and leaves them all over my house. Which annoys me so damn much.
*Yes, in some instances, kissing and having sex only is not an issue. When consenting adults do it, for example. But not when two teenagers, both of which are kind of traumatized by grief, do it.