Thursday 10 June 2021

Book Review | Things to Do Before the End of the World by Emily Barr

Publication Date: May 6th 2021 by Penguin
Format: Netgalley ARC
Target Audience: Young Adult 



One minute you're walking in the park, hiding from a party. Then you discover that the next nine months will probably be your last. Everyone's last. You realise that you happen to be alive at the time when your species becomes extinct.
You have to decide whether to go with it meekly like you usually do, or to do something brave, to live your last months with all the energy and bravery you can muster, to rage against the dying of the light.

Olivia struggles to live her real life as fully as she wants to. She plans out conversations and events in her head but actually doing them and interacting with other people is hard. When the news breaks that humans have done such damage to the earth that there's only nine months of safe air left everybody makes bucket lists and starts living their best lives - everyone, that is, but Olivia who is still struggling to figure out who she wants to be.

Then out of the blue comes contact from a long-lost cousin Olivia didn't even know exsisted. Natasha is everything Olivia wants to be and more. And as the girls meet up for their last summer on earth Olivia finds Natasha's ease and self-confidence having a effect on her. But what if Natasha isn't everything she first appears to be...?




My Thoughts

"I never worked out how to be myself in a way that I could bear. I never knew how to trust the world when it was outside my control."
I really quite enjoyed another of Emily Barr's books, The Girl Who Came Out of the Woods, which was released in 2019 and one I was approved for on Netgalley (you can check out my review for that book here) so when I spotted her new release on there I knew I had to request it.  
Things to Do Before the End of the World is a mash-up of genres. The kind of overlying theme is that the world is essentially ending pretty soon. Like in 9 months soon. Our main character Libby is a shy teenager who is struggling with her feelings for another girl at school and now has to deal with the fact that everything could be over in a matter of months. Adding to this her long lost cousin appears suddenly in her life and takes her under her wing, giving her a list of things to do before the world ends in the hopes of boosting her confidence.
So we've got a sci-fi/dystopian kind of set up, with some contemporary themes regarding the characters but with a few thriller elements thrown in for good fun as well. Somehow it does manage to work though and whilst for the majority of the story it mainly feels like a contemporary, those other elements ramp up the stakes and intrigue of the plot. The world ending debacle is definitely a background portion of this as a way to set up other parts sort of like a chain reaction but I kind of liked that it wasn't the main focus as it allowed for the plot to move forward but not overshadow anything else. I also liked the settings too, the way the story moved from Winchester to Madrid to Paris, Barr did a great job of bringing those cities to life on the page. 
Libby is an interesting character, one that I can see some people being frustrated with due to her naivete and her trusting nature. I found a lot of my teenage self in her though, her struggle to show herself to the world and her natural instinct to retreat from any kind of social scene. We also both did school plays! I wasn't overly sold on her character as I felt she was maybe a bit too subservient but by the end I was really attached and fairly protective over her. It's difficult to talk about her cousin Natasha's character without giving away spoilers so I'll just say that she definitely brought the entertainment factor to this book. It was fun to read about the two of them running around Madrid and Paris performing magic tricks for money, if only it could've stayed that way!
My main issues were with the pacing. In the first half we jump forward in time a fair bit. We go from December to July within about 100 pages, everything happening in those months goes by so quickly. Whereas in the second half we're pretty much solely in the month of August and the time period is over two or three weeks. I also felt that nothing much happens in the first three quarters of this book whilst it's setting up the characters and the relationship between Libby and Natasha, it was just dragging so much. It does redeem itself in the last quarter though as that's where things really get going and suddenly I was racing through in order to find out how it ends. It also targeted my anxiety so much, my heart was racing at the situation Libby found herself in. 
I could be persuaded to up my rating by half a star but I just didn't find myself invested in the storyline or the characters up until that last section. Barr is a great YA writer though who does a terrific job of blending contemporary with different genres and I'd be up for reading more of her work in the future as well as one of her previous books that I already own. 

* I received an ARC copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes included in this review are subject to change. Massive thank you to Penguin for providing me with a copy.

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