Get a massage.
Eat ice cream in public.
Wear sexy shoes.
Take Mom and Grandma to see Wayne Newton.
Change someone’s life.
After a car accident claims the life of her passenger, a woman she barely knows, June Parker is left with a heart full of guilt — and one carefully written listed. Called “20 Things To Do Before I Turn 25,” the list belongs to Marissa Jones — a young woman whom June met at a Weight Watchers meeting and befriended not long before the crash. After losing 100 pounds, Marissa had just begun to fully experience life . . . and had quite a bit left to do.
And since she wouldn’t be able to, June decided she would — and all before Marissa’s birthday.
Adrift at her job in Los Angeles, June is a fledgling writer who typically divides her days between fighting with Lizbeth, her type-A boss, and staring at the disgusting rattail poking out of her coworker’s scalp. June is boyfriendless and carefully cocooned in her boring life before the accident that changes everything — including her own outlook. Suddenly, completing the list — especially at the prodding of Troy, Marissa’s handsome older brother — gives June’s own life purpose. And it’s only through her dogged determination to see this one thing through that she realizes who she is.
Jill Smolinski’s The Next Thing On My List isn’t anywhere near the sobfest you would expect it to be, considering our narrator is completing tasks dreamed up by a dead woman. It’s actually an incredibly entertaining, heartwarming and inspirational novel that had me flipping the pages from day one.
The strength of book, for me, came in the form of June and Smolinski’s sense of humor, which was pitch-perfect. Any off-color jokes would certainly have not been well-received by the audience — me — but we never got that point. The Next Thing On My List struck the perfect balance between remembering Marissa and her life while still allowing the characters to grow and move on. When we could have easily become mired in a depressing tale, Smolinski’s humorous and fast-paced writing kept us moving forward. I laughed out loud so many times in the book, dog-earing pages with quotes I wanted to remember. Inspirational ones, like this:
Life is funny, I thought as I hoisted my leg high and over the seat. People are living too much or too little, and I wondered if anyone out there is living the right amount.
Smolinski also did a great job of balancing June’s personal life with what she does at work — which is where most of us spend all our time, anyway. For once, June isn’t a publicist or a magazine editor or a New York City fashion maven; she’s a copywriter for an L.A.-based group which encourages carpooling as a way to cut down on traffic. I surely appreciated the change of pace and enjoyed reading about the world of advertising. June’s coworkers were all very funny, fleshed-out folks, too. Nothing kills a novel faster for me than a dry, one-dimensional ensemble.
Fans of women’s fiction will enjoy June’s adventures and maybe shed a tear or two (I won’t judge). And more than anything, what I took away from the novel was this: live your life to the fullest. Create lists. Fall in love. Get scared. Don’t hide from your feelings. We get one shot, one opportunity, one moment to shape our own lives — so jump in and take it. And since I’ll be 25 myself in a few short months, you might just find my own list around here sometime soon!
4 out of 5!