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February 2013 / Bronx/​Riverdale Family / Brooklyn Family / Long Island Family / Manhattan Family / Queens Family / Staten Island Family / Columnists / The Book Worm

The Wrap-Up List

Wrapping up loose ends

In “The Wrap-Up List,” a new novel by Steven Arntson, there’s a way of cheating death for 16-year-old Gabriela Rivera.

In Gabriela’s modern-day suburban town, Deaths — eight-foot-tall, silver-gray creatures — send a letter 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.

Gabriela never thought about her own mortality, even though there were Death sightings everywhere, and a portrait of her late grandfather hung in her bedroom. Between school and hanging out with Iris, Sarena, and Raahi, life was full. She’d never completely get used to having Deaths wandering around close-by, but she never really gave them much thought, either.

Then she found the red envelope in the mail.

“You’ve been chosen for departure,” it said, and Gabriela’s blood ran cold.

When someone was contacted by a Death, he was told how many days he had left, with scant room for negotiation. The days allowed for tying up loose ends, saying goodbye, planning the leaving, and making a wrap-up list of things to do before he departed. Nobody knew why Deaths selected certain people, and the only way to escape departure was to find that Death’s Noble Weakness — learn from the clues, and the Death could be cheated.

Once Gabriela understood that she would be departing with her Death, Hercule, she made her wrap-up list: helping her friends and herself get their first kisses.

There are a lot of things to like about “The Wrap-Up List,” starting with the sharp main character.

Arntson’s Gabriela is loyal and kind-hearted, good to her parents, and smart, but with enough self-doubt to make her believable. I liked the way she faced her own Death; how she befriended him and.....well, I can’t tell you any more without ruining everything.

The other great part about this book is that it forces you to think about what you’d do if you’d been picked for departure. The answer, and the world in which the question is asked, is the other part of Arntson’s most excellent, creepy, sweetly created story, and I really liked it.

I’d say this book is appropriate for anyone ages 12 and up.

“The Wrap-Up List,” by Steven Arntson [240 pages, 2013, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $15.99].

Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3 years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill with two dogs and 12,000 books.

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