Source: Review Copy
The Wrap-Up List by Steve Arnston, 236 pp, RL MIDDLE SCHOOL
the wrap-up list by Steven Arnston could be added to the list of other "afterlife" or "do-over" books that are so popular in the YA genre these days (Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, If I Stay by Gayle Foreman and Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin come to mind immediately) but it has so many other things going for it and going on in it that I hate to categorize it. And, despite the titular concept, this is not a "bucket list" book either. A bucket list is something that you plan and accomplish over time. A wrap-up list consists of things you want to make happen in the week before you die. In the world that sixteen-year old Gabriela Rivera lives in, one percent of the population are slated for "departure." Instead of dying from a heart attack, cancer or an accident, some people are slated to "depart" and given a week to prepare and compose a "wrap-up list" that their Death will help them accomplish to the best of his or her abilities. Arnston takes this story to the next level by making Gabriela's Death a character in the book with distinct physical attributes, personality traits and a unique Noble Weakness. A Death's Noble Weakness is a quality that, if it can be uncovered and employed, is something that assures the granting of a pardon for the person slated for departure. the wrap-up list is part social-emotional story and part mystery-fantasy as Gabriela and her friends and family come to terms with her imminent departure and what she has chosen to put on her own wrap-up list while also helping her unravel the cryptic clues her Death has left her.
Another interesting layer to Gabriela and her story is her faith and her family's practice of Catholicism as well as an impending war that has resulted in a new draft and the conscription of one of her friends who has just turned eighteen. In fact, her departure date falls on Ash Wednesday and it is her parish priest, Father Ernesto, the man who married her parents, who reminds her of the church motto, "Spirit of Service," as Gabriela contemplates her wrap-up list. With that in mind, she asks for a first kiss for each of her best friends, Iris, Raahi and Sarena and for herself, and a pardon. The next week is taken up with announcing her departure, trying to figure out the clues Hercule has left her and making sure her friends get their first kisses. Gabriela's friend Iris has long been fascinated by the Deaths, can identify many of them by name and knows where they like to go for coffee. She researches them in academic journals and visits the hall of records where information pertaining to each departure and pardon is noted. This is how Gabriela discovers a link between her Death and the death of her grandfather Gonzalo Rivera who fought and died in Africa during WWII.
Arnston is also the author of the middle-grade novel The Wikkeling, a cross between a dystiopian tale along the lines of The Giver and a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. The Wikkeling is a mysterious, extremely tall creature dressed all in yellow with pudding-yellow skin, long, long fingers like tapering, waxy candles who seems to be a link between the shiny, safe new city referred to as the Addition and the crumbling, dangerous Old City that is home to all the good things society has left behind, like libraries and house cats. The figure of the Wikkeling returned to me as I read the wrap-up list, with the eight foot tall deaths, stooping to enter buildings, dressed all in silvery grey clothes. The Deaths, although not human, have human traits and personalities and Hercule reminded me a bit of Oscar Wilde or a character from one of his books for some reason. In both books, Arntson's creativity, imagination and grounding in every day life are rich and innovative in a quiet way. With both books, you find yourself thinking about the characters and their stories when you aren't reading and long after you have finished. After The Wikkeling, I was very surprised to find that Arnston's next book was a work of YA, but he crosses the bridge between the age groups wonderfully, bringing the out of the ordinary fantasy qualities of his first book and combining them with a emotionally moving story filled with fascinating, well crafted characters, from Gabriela and her friends, to her constantly bickering parents to her crush, football player Sylvester Hale and his father, the bitter soldier who lost his arm in battle. I read the last few chapters of the wrap-up list perched on the edge of my chair, tears plopping on the pages of the book now and then, amazed at how Arnston threaded all of the strands of the story together at the end of the book into a satisfying, not entirely expected ending. Despite the blurb on the cover of the book, "Number of days left to live: 7. Number of times kissed: 0. What would you do?" the wrap-up list is, above all else, about bringing people together, celebrating connections and relishing and cherishing these people in meaningful ways. Without a doubt, his is a thinking girl's high school romance story.
I'm not sure what Steven Arnston's involvement is with the design of his books, from the dust jacket to the cover to the font, but he has a great track record. The eye catching red envelop of the dust jacket for the wrap-up list, when removed, reveals a very cool image of rows and rows of mailboxes, one of which clearly has a red Death Letter in it. As a middle-grade fantasy with interior art, The Wikkeling has even more beautiful production values, starting with the very cool square shape of the book. Scroll past these the wrap-up list pictures of for images of and from The Wikkeling and a book trailer for the wrap-up list.
the wrap-up list book trailer
Source: Review Copy