Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers on 6/7/16
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
My content rating: Mature YA (Characters have sex and sex is discussed quite often, Deals with death)
First loves. Last Wishes. Letting go.
Seventeen-year-old Maddie O'Neill Levine lives a charmed life, and is primed to spend the perfect pre-college summer with her best friends and young-at-heart socialite grandmother (also Maddie's closest confidante), tying up high school loose ends. Maddie's plans change the instant Gram announces that she is terminally ill and has booked the family on a secret "death with dignity" cruise ship so that she can leave the world in her own unconventional way - and give the O'Neill clan an unforgettable summer of dreams-come-true in the process.
Soon, Maddie is on the trip of a lifetime with her over-the-top family. As they travel the globe, Maddie bonds with other passengers and falls for Enzo, who is processing his own grief. But despite the laughter, headiness of first love, and excitement of glamorous destinations, Maddie knows she is on the brink of losing Gram. She struggles to find the strength to say good-bye in a whirlwind summer shaped by love, loss, and the power of forgiveness.
I’m warning you ahead of time that this review is going to be long and possibly slightly ranty. I’m so incredibly conflicted about this book! On the one hand, it was a touching depiction of loss and the myriad of ways we deal with it, but I just couldn’t connect to these characters and there were some aspects of the book that really bothered me.
Normally, I start with the positives and then talk about the things that bothered me, but in this case, I’m doing it the opposite way. Why? Because the second half of the book is what won me over (at least partially), and I feel the need to talk about this book in the way I experienced it. So, here I go –
What Left Me Wanting More:
- An MC that frustrated me. From the very beginning of the book, I was not a fan of Maddie – she was completely insufferable, stuck-up and kind of generally mean. She tells us right at the very beginning that she’s only dating her boyfriend Ethan because he’s captain of the something-or-other team (I don’t remember what, honestly) and she likes team captains. Then she spends the whole beginning of the book whining about him. View Spoiler »All she could talk about is how he prematurely ejaculated when they tried to have sex. She literally told someone about this within like five minutes of meeting them. I felt so sorry for the kid – he was a teenage virgin – give the guy a break! « Hide SpoilerIt’s all about status for her and her little popular clique of friends. I just plain didn’t like Maddie. Now, she did change as the book went on, but I have to say that I didn’t really see where the growth came from. I guess hanging around with dying people? I just didn’t really see the transition. She just suddenly wasn’t as shallow anymore. So, while I liked her better, I was still conflicted.
- Other characters who frustrated me. Honestly, none of the other characters thrilled me at the beginning of the book either. Mostly, I was kind of horrified by Gram at first. She was supposed to be this hip, ultra-cool grandma who has a tattoo and talks about sex, but I had a hard time liking a woman who went around randomly grabbing her granddaughter’s boob, borderline mocking her for not having sex yet, and making random comments about her weight.
- Conflicted messages about sex. As you can probably tell, a lot of my issues with this book have to do with sex. I just got frustrated with the messages that this book was putting forth. Maddie was basically made to feel bad for not sleeping around by everyone in her life. At one point she played Never Have I Ever with a group of people (including her grandma) and they all treated her like this poor, naive little girl for not being able to live up to their sexual escapades, basically telling her, “Don’t worry, you’ll get there eventually.” REALLY?! She was seventeen years old, so why on earth did everyone act like she was a joke for being sexually inexperienced? I got sick and tired of Maddie having to explain away the fact that she was a virgin to her family and friends. Meanwhile, her (slightly) older cousin was looked at as this more experienced, cosmopolitan person because she’d slept with A LOT of guys, but then she was also kind of looked down on too. I couldn’t quite tell what the message with her was supposed to be. She was kind of a mess when it came to boys, yet for the most part she seemed to be a character Maddie (and others) looked up to because she was worldly and experienced. One minute Maddie would seem to think negatively about her cousin’s behavior and then the next she’d excuse her for cheating (since her cousin was drunk – obviously it’s not her fault if she cheats on someone when she’s drunk, right? Even if that’s a complete pattern in her life.). I don’t know, I guess I just wasn’t very happy with the messages this book was sending – making it seem that sex is just plain expected and if someone decides to wait on it, it must be because they’re naive. This frustrated me so much that I was VERY close to DNFing this book. Multiple times. But I kept going, and I eventually got to the second half of the book, which I liked much better. (Since Maddie eventually had sex, her friends and family were able to lay off about the issue, so I could stop thinking about it every minute or so of reading.)
What Fed My Addiction:
- Zest for life. While I didn’t love the messages that this book set forth about sex, I DID love the overall message that you should savor life and truly live every minute of it. The cruise that Maddie and her family went on wasn’t about death (even though, ultimately, many of the passengers died), it was about truly experiencing the things this world has to offer and savoring time with friends and family. Maddie learned what was important in life while on the cruise – and left it a different person.
- Enzo. While I did feel like the romance was borderline instalove, that didn’t stop me from loving Enzo. Once we got to about halfway through the book, I felt like the romance really blossomed and I was invested in Enzo and Maddie as a couple. These two were sweet and cute together, and he helped Maddie’s transformation into a person who was not completely self-absorbed!
- Processing death. The best part of this book was showing how different people process death and not glossing over it. When Gram died, Maddie wasn’t zen about it – even though she’d had plenty of time to prepare for the inevitable. No, her response to the loss was honest and real, painful and heart wrenching – she was a mess, and rightfully so. While the ultimate message was about savoring life, there was no ignoring the fact that death is, in fact, a painful part of life. I may not have loved every minute of this book, but I adored the last quarter or so – where Maddie came to terms with everything.
Some people will probably love this book. They’ll relate to these quirky characters and feel liberated by the message that sex is something to be enjoyed as often as possible with no guilt. I was not one of those people (which is not to say that people should feel guilty for having sex – I just didn’t like the fact that Maddie was being pushed into it so much). I struggled a lot with my rating on this one and had to wait to process the book before I could come up with my final verdict. In the end, I decided to give this book 2.5/5 stars, but I’m aware that there will be others who will feel like this book is perfect for them – you might be one of them! (If you think you might love it, I’m giving away my copy, so enter for a chance to win! Check out the giveaway HERE!)
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via BEA in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
About the Author
Carrie Firestone has lived in rural, urban, and suburban places, and, while she currently lives in the suburbs, she is decidedly a CITY person. She loves parties, and all kinds of music, and books about random people doing random things in random places. She loves to travel with her husband, and two daughters, Lauren and Emily. When she isn’t writing, you might find her reluctantly sharing her popcorn at the movies, trying to get people (or dogs) to do a conga line, or adding items to her loose ends list.