Book Review: The Wrap-Up List by Steven Arnston

I would like to preface this by saying: I never do this.

Except that I did.

I stopped reading The Wrap-Up List thirty pages in.

Usually, even if I don’t like a book, I try to tough it out. There have been some books that got really good halfway through and I try to honor that.

But I couldn’t this time.

I didn’t buy the book for myself. I probably wouldn’t have, but it was a gift, so I decided to read it. And then all of this happened:

The world Arnston built was at first interesting but became unrealistic. It wasn’t quite dystopian, but there was a world war around the corner, and the year was implied as to be a few decades into the future. But normal life seemed almost outdated, sort of 2005. COMMIT TO A GENRE, or blend genres well.

Then there was the concept of Deaths and their Nobel Weaknesses. Deaths were creatures that sent a letter to you if you were going to Depart (read: die), and then would let you have a certain amount of time to wrap up your life. You sent them a wrap-up list of things you wanted to accomplish and they would supernaturally help them happen. On the list, you could ask for a Pardon, which would give you a hint to how you could get out of departing–the death’s Nobel Weakness.

At first, this concept was intriguing. However, as I learned more about the Nobel Weaknesses, I started to get annoyed. Each Death’s Nobel Weakness was a form of generosity; the Pardon gave you a clue as to what act of generosity you had to preform and if you figured it out and did it wholeheartedly (or promised to) you wouldn’t depart.

This really bugged me. Sometimes I feel like authors sacrifice their (awsome) plots to TELL YOUNG PEOPLE A THING. There are themes descretely woven into novels, and then there are these books, where the reader is hit over the head with A MESSAGE about life. In this case, it was generosity. But really? You have death deities walking around that could have personalities and good/evil conflicts and a complex riddle for a Pardon that would inspire more good/evil life/death conflicts in the protagonist and you choose–generosity? Seriously? It just didn’t make sense to me and I really got tired of the feeling of an author using their book to shout criticisms at my character (being a “teenage girl” because we all NEED TO BE TOLD WHY WE SUCK). If you don’t mind that (it would probably help if you are an adult) maybe you could have finished the book.

But the biggest issue for me was the voice. I love voice. It is what makes me fall in love with a story, remember a story, recommend a story, reread a story–everything. A good plot without voice is next to useless for me. But this protagonist’s voice confused me. It didn’t feel like a teenage girl who just realized she’s going to die. It felt like a poor attempt to capture that voice. There was no strife. There was practically no emotion. Her actions seemed out of character. Her one girly personality point (a crush on the school hottie) was overdone and heavy-handed and ended up coming off flat and boring. Again, it felt like an adult putting words in a young character’s mouth. She was (in my personal opinion) weirdly patriotic/militarily minded for a teen, Catholic in a tell-young-people-about-God way (as opposed to it actually driving the plot), and otherwise…empty. The only things she ever really said were about the military or about religion, which doesn’t make sense for a teenage girl voice. I’m not saying authors should use the cliche (and horrible) oh-my-god-I-broke-a-nail-ooh-look-a-hot-guy voice for teenage girls. They don’t have to. Other authors hvae figured out how to craft deep, strong, complex female characters that still read as teenage girls (e.g.  Libba Bray, Maggie Steifvater, Rachel Hawkins, Ally Carter, and so many more). But this voice didn’t do anything. She didn’t really have any emotion. A lot of her actions were out of character for a girl her age. And one more thing–I never felt the friendship. This is a book whose plot centers around one girl using her last wishes to help her friends. But in the few scenes her friends showed up–there was nothing. They felt like strangers, or people who had just met. There was none of that addictive, incredible friendship that makes so many other books amazing. This only made the main character seem emptier. From my point of view, her character was a male author’s first attempt at using a female voice, but an author who used the voice to talk about generosity, the military, and religion instead of telling a story.

It could have been done better.

So I stopped reading. Which left me feeling weird. The last time I did that was at least six months ago. I really don’t like doing it.

But (as you can hopefully tell) I didn’t enjoy the book.

(Maybe it got good farther in, but it annoyed me too much before then to get me to it, so I don’t really care.)

So there. Maybe you’ve read this book? Maybe you liked it? Please comment. 🙂

I started reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay in it’s place. I like it so far but it is REALLY LONG and I have a little thing called school on my plate right now. So apologies–no review for a while. I’ll probably come in and review series I’ve already read to keep posts coming.

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