Teen tries to come to terms with untimely death in 'The Wrap-Up List'

Your parents have made out their wills.

It's kind of weird that you know they have, and it's weird that they've thought of things like that. Seriously, it's going to happen some day - it happens to everybody - but who plans on dying?

You won't start thinking about things like that. Needing a will, for you, is a long ways away. But for the young woman in "The Wrap-Up List," a new novel by Steven Arntson, where there's a will, there's a way of cheating death.

There was a portrait hanging in 16-year-old Gabriela Rivera's bedroom.

It was a portrait of her Grandfather Gonzalo, who died in the last war. Abuela always said he was a hero, but Gabriela preferred to make up stories about him. The picture made him seem twinkly, and she liked that.

But though she saw Gonzalo's picture every day and though there were Death sightings everywhere, she didn't think about her own mortality. Gabriela was a sophomore in high school, and 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, they were told how many days they 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 they 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 part of the one percent of all fatalities, she made her wrap-up list: first kisses for her friends and herself, and a pardon.

Hercule, her Death, sent her a letter back, containing hints for her final list and for his Noble Weakness.

All Gabriela had left to do was to figure out both.

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 12 or older, so if you're looking for a good back-to-school novel, here it is. Grab "The Wrap-Up List" because like it, you will. 

View publishes Terri Schlichenmeyer's children's book reviews weekly.