Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Wrap Up List, by Steven Arntson

I was really intrigued by the premise of this book. In the novel, about 1% of all deaths are attributed to what the people call "Departures". What this means is that people "depart" from earth without really dying in the normal sense that we think of the word. "Departures" are summoned by one of several "Deaths" - ghost-like people who summon and accompany people into their departure.

The novel is set at a time when the world is on the brink of war, so the number of "Departures" has risen globally. Main character Gabriela is, unfortunately, selected for departure at just 16. Gabriela goes through the normal motions of a departure - submitting a "Wrap Up List" almost like a bucket list - to her Death, who happens to be Hercule, waiting for a reply from him with hints about his "Noble Weakness". The "Noble Weakness" is almost like a character flaw that is unique to every Death. If you can figure it out, you are granted a "Pardon" and do not have to Depart. Obviously, Gabriela is determined to, with the help of her friends, figure out what Hercule's Noble Weakness is so that she can avoid an untimely departure.

The details surrounding Gabriela's departure become increasingly perplexing - another boy at her school is scheduled to depart with the same Death, which is highly unusual. Then there's the fact that, after doing some research, Gabriela realizes that her Death, Hercule, granted a Pardon to her grandfather years and years ago, during a war in Tunisia. Are all of these things clues into Hercule's Noble Weakness, or will Gabriela wind up departing on schedule?

I absolutely loved the writer's style and lots of particular aspects of the book. For instance, Gabriela's family pretty much centers their lives around their Catholic church and their priest. I loved this aspect about the book, and loved Gabriela's conversations with their priest, Father Ernesto, as she questions some of the big dilemmas in life. I also loved how the author kind of examined rituals and milestones that we all have in common. One of my favorite was the ritual of high school football games. I loved this passage, beginning at the playing of the National Anthem at a Sunday evening football game:

"Everyone, on both sides of the field, rises. I've been through this many times, and it has never occurred to me to wonder about it, but looking down on the field we all ritualistically cover our hearts - it's just like church. When the first notes are played, everyone, and everything comes to a halt...The players, the cheerleaders, the band, even the crowd - this entire stadium and everything that takes place in it is a uniform we have all decided to put on together. To forget ourselves. 
As the ritual of Mass prepares the congregation to receive the Body of Christ, so the cheer squad prepares the fans to receive the varsity team." (116).

This really was one of those novels that made you think, and I will recommend it heavily next year. There is some mild language and a very brief exploration of sexuality. 

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