A refreshing, funny, and moving debut novel about first loves, last wishes, and 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.
Maddie is eager to spend the summer before college completing her list of missed opportunities with her best friends until her wealthy grandmother delivers a bombshell. Dying of pancreatic cancer, Gram bids Maddie and family to take an eight-week cruise on The Wishwell, a "death-with-dignity" ship catering to its passengers' last desires. Together with her parents, brother, sex-crazed cousin Janie, assorted aunts and uncles, and Gram's boyfriend, Bob Johns, Maddie travels around the world collecting "snow globe moments" to cherish forever. Along the way, she falls in love with Enzo, a British college student headed to Egypt. Joyful shipboard scenes eventually give way to sadness as members choose their final moments. Afraid of death, Maddie must come to terms with the decision her grandmother and the other Wishwellians make. First-time author Firestone's memorable characters offer powerful images of bodies betraying lively minds and spirits. While the often crass dialogue and narration can feel at odds with the overall emotional tone ("I can't escape the horrifying visual of Gram's bony body getting slammed by old Bob Johns"), the novel culminates in an embracing celebration of life. Ages 14 up.