I find myself irritated by the goodreads shelf labels associated with the Wrap-up List by Steven Arntson. Which is stupid, I know. I’m not a genre snob, I swear. But… Paranormal Fantasy? Supernatural Fantasy? Really? Okay…sure, I can admit, that part of it is gag reflex; when I hear Paranormal Fantasy I think of Twilight and the million other vampire novels out there, which are not in the same league as the Wrap-up List. But part of it is that these genre labels seem to simplify this novel; the story takes place in reality but has fantastic elements and revolves around some really complex issues like grief and mortality. After finishing the novel, I found myself thinking, “So that’s magical realism?”
Released: January 2013
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
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In this modern-day suburban town, one percent of all fatalities come about in the most peculiar way. Deaths—eight-foot-tall, silver-gray creatures—send a letter (“Dear So-and-So, your days are numbered”) to whomever is chosen for a departure, telling them to wrap up their lives and do the things they always wanted to do before they have to “depart.” When sixteen-year-old Gabriela receives her notice, she is, of course devastated. Will she kiss her crush Sylvester before it’s too late?
I’m glad I just skimmed the synopsis and flipped to the first page to read the first paragraph instead [your book has to “hook” me in the first paragraph, or it’s going back on the shelf!]. Had I continued the synopsis, I would have learned that Gabriela’s wrap-up list revolves around getting first kisses for herself and her friends. Sounds cheesy, right? Once I actually learned the contents of Gabriela’s wrap-up list, I was quite skeptical myself. It just seemed silly that a sixteen year old would become so preoccupied by first kisses when she had just one week to live. (Then again, maybe I’m the silly one; I would have been more preoccupied by trying to figure out how to see AFI in concert instead of getting my first kiss.) I think I was also a little concerned that the author’s treatment of the subject of death was going to be flippant, which it wasn’t.
Which is kind of strange when you think about it– this book does takes place in a modern-day, suburban town after all. Except, these beings called Deaths, which children are taught about in school, roam our world to escort the chosen Departed to the place beyond the Fields. (The Fields is a very tangible place that the living can visit, but they cannot visit the place beyond the Fields.) People can also specialize in the study of Departure and work for the Departure Authority. Their reports may end up in the Municipal Archives, which contains all sorts of government records including record of all the Deaths, their Departed, and who was granted Pardons.
Hercule is Gabriela’s Death, and she and her friends intend to kidnap him. What follows is a bit of chaos, some deep discussions about faith and mortality, and a second half of a novel that is so cleverly tinged with black comedy (sort of like when Percy Jackson met Charon and Hades in the Lightning Thief). While I enjoyed the entire novel, it was the second half of the novel that really affected me. The story became so much more complex and emotional and yes, sometimes even funny.
Overall, the Wrap-up List by Steven Arntson is a wonderful novel. Just like Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern, I finished it in one sitting, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this novel to other readers.
Have you ever read the Wrap-up List? What would be on your list?