Steven Arntson's The Wrap-Up List is a sweet story about a girl whose life is coming to a tragic early end. Set in a world on the verge of war, this is a place where Death selects people at random, accounting for a small percent of fatalities. An interesting concept to say the least, but what I really like about The Wrap-Up List is its diverse cast of characters and inclusion of sensitive subjects into a modern story of friendships, family, kindness, and acceptance.
Summary: 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? Friendship, first love, and fantasy artfully mesh in this magically realistic world that ultimately celebrates life.
Although the book is about death and dying, the book isn't heavy-hearted or tragic. Gabriela's story focuses on the celebration of life in the now, in accomplishing her wrap-up list, and largely helping others to find love, happiness, and hope regardless of whether or not she earns a Pardon from Death.
However it is the characters that interested me most. Gabriela learns her best friend is gay and feeling confused, speaks to her priest about it. The priest tells Gabriela that it is less offensive to God for a woman to be gay than it is for a man. And while my hackles were raised at these archaic opinions, Gabriela's definitive decision that her priest was wrong suddenly changed everything. Well done, Steven Arntson. Thank you for having a modern teen disagree with such an outrageously offensive statement.
Other sensitive subjects include racism (Gabriela has never met her mother's parents as they shunned their own daughter for marrying a Mexican man), and the book's heavy use of religion. Gabriela attends Mass, prays, and God comes up quite often.
Although some of the content may be objectionable for some parents or educators, I quite enjoyed the story. It was refreshing to see sexuality, religion, race, etc. all bound up in a story about life and death. Gabriela's "wrap-up list" is enormously generous to others and her choices and actions are self-sacrificing, brave, and kind. In the end, there is only kindness, love, and generosity.
This is a great novel for middle grade readers and an excellent choice to spark some discussion about character, the world, and the nature of life, death, and the afterlife.