I was given This is Not the End by a friend at my university so we could start a book club, or better understood as a drink-wine-and-chat-about-a-book-maybe-club. My friend actually said before I started reading, “It’s okay if you don’t like it” as if I was holding a book about some horrible, depressive topic. Unfortunately, she jinxed me and I didn’t really like it.
This is Not the End by Chandler Baker
Published by Disney-Hyperion on August 8th, 2017
Genres: Friendship, Romance, Family, Coming of Age, Tough Choices
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles
Final Review: 3 out of 5 ★★★☆☆
If you have read Lauren Oliver’s Replica or Katherine McGee’s The Thousandth Floor, then you will probably not like This is The End. The three books do have one thing in common: mixing one, futuristic technology with our everyday life. Instead of completely creating a dystopian, futuristic world like Cinder, Oliver, McGee, and Baker place one new-wave, Elon Musk-esque technology in their stories which, besides the one tech upgrade, everything else has pretty much stayed the same. Replica and The Thousandth Floor discuss cloning (sorry, spoilers!) while the rest of the characters could be transported to a Sarah Dessen novel. In This is Not the End, while the plot (minus the science-based reincarnation, which I’ll get to later) could also be placed in a cheesy, romantic read, that tiny bit of science-fiction makes this story different–and not necessarily for the better.
I wanted to like This is Not the End so badly–for my friend, for our wine and book club, and simply because I love YA, but this book lost some of its uniqueness to cliches. I’ll start with the things I didn’t like with the book, before moving on to the things I did like.
First of all, the random descriptions of the “reincarnation process” I’m assuming was to flow and not sound too detailed or story-like, but it did the opposite. Instead, to me, it felt as if Chandler was making up notes about the process–adding “death parties” and “taboo” to the table on page 222–as she was writing, not cultivating the idea beforehand. The reader really doesn’t know anything about the process, which is fine, since we are supposed to be observing as if we already understand everything (just like in The Thousandth Floor), but instead of organically showing the reader what this space-age technology does, this story randomly brings it up, changing the reader’s thoughts on it. Are we supposed to hate it like some of the characters? Or fetishize it like others? Once again on page 222, Lake narrates “Since suicide and assisted suicide are strictly taboo, death parties are always hush-hush.” How is the reader supposed to know that suicide is strictly taboo in this world–it seems like it wouldn’t be at all given how the process works, and we’re told this more than halfway through the book.
The other issues that I have are the unnecessary cliches used. My main bother is when Lake meets Ringo and his group of friends, Lake has to comment “I feel a flush of self-consciousness, realizing how insulated and how homogenous and white St. Theresa’s–the world I’ve been committed to since eighth grade–is” (130-131). To me, I see this as a cop-out: Baker felt that she wasn’t being inclusive enough so she drew more attention to the fact by force-feeding us Ringo’s rag-tag team of friends. If Baker hadn’t mentioned anything, this would have been better, or if the rest of the plot revolved around race, this would have been better. But here, Lake brings it up once–and never mentions it again.
Now, you might think I absolutely hated this book so why even bother giving it three stars? Why not just rip apart the whole thing? And while I could, there are two plot points that are very redeeming (warning: spoilers ahead!).
I both did not, and totally did, see the Penny and Will thing coming and I think this is best showcased when the trio are at a death party and they lose Penny in the crowd:
At the bottom of the stairs, we find Penny waiting for us. Her complexion has turned translucent and she appears shaken. “I couldn’t find you–” And then she notices Will’s and my hands curled together. “Oh,” she says, blinking. Her cheeks light up fluorescent pink. “Oh,” she repeats. (233)
I think Baker really showcases here the troubles of being young and in love (now I sound like a cliche). The realization that hits Penny is real; it’s something I’ve felt before and have probably made others feel before as well. It’s crushing to choose between two people you love in different ways. Once she showed us this scene, it was all so obvious and as a reader, I wanted Will and Penny to be together anyway.
The other redeeming quality of This is Not the End, is Matt. Shocking, I know. Lake’s older brother Matt became fully paralyzed and is relying on Lake to turn eighteen and use her resurrection choice on him so he can come back to life fully healed. And he’s a complete arse about it. I was so caught off guard by just how shitty a person Matt is, just how much Baker wants us to hate him, that I actually love him. In the fresh, under-50 pages of the book, we see Matt being simply cruel to his sister:
“Seriously?” He scoffs and looks off to the side, like, Can you believe this girl? “You do realize you hit the car dead-on, right? I mean you were there. Doctor-What’s-His Face said you were probably conscious through most of it. I figured you already knew.” (30)
He is, of course, referring to Penny and Will’s deaths to the freshly woken up Lake as if they were a mere inconvenience for him. I had originally marked this passage as something I hated, similar to my marking of Baker’s random use of race, but further on, I realized that Matt truly is the deepest character in this book and I would definitely say the true star of the story–we only watch his change progress from start to end, not really Lake’s.
So while I wanted to really love this book, there were too many flaws for me to be totally enveloped in it. The overall plot, though, is fascinating and I wish went into better detail. I would recommend if you want a quick, easy read about family struggles.