A timely and powerful coming-of-age thriller from the bestselling author of The One Memory of Flora Banks.
What would you do when you hear the news that humans have done such damage to the earth that there might only be a limited amount of safe air left – a year’s worth at most?
You’d work through your bucket list, heal rifts, do everything you’ve never been brave enough to do before?
Olivia is struggling to do any of this. What it is she truly wants to do? Who do she wants to be?
Then out of the blue comes contact from a long-lost cousin Olivia didn’t even know existed. Natasha is everything Olivia wants to be and more. And as the girls meet up for a long, hot last summer, Olivia finds Natasha’s ease and self-confidence having an effect on her.
But Natasha definitely isn’t everything she first appears to be . . .
I am back on another The Write Reads blog tour. Thank you so much to The Write Reads for including me, and to Penguin for providing me with a copy of this book!
Before we get into this more, I want to say I did enjoy this, but it took me a fair while to get into it. The first half is relatively slow, and it takes a while to pick up. But I’ll go into more details about that later.
Olivia s very much an introvert, able to only fully come out of her shell when she takes on the role of someone else. Playing Juliet in an all-girl production of Romeo & Juliet is a dream come true, especially as Romeo is played by Olivia’s crush, Zoe. But the world is ending, the air running out, and when the play ends, Olivia is left adrift. Until her long-lost cousin contacts her. Everyone around Olivia has different reactions to what is happening. Her mother and step-father decide to spend time in Spain, while her father and step-mother block it out, focusing instead on their two young children. With Natasha’s help, Olivia realises she needs to make the most of the time she has left.
The writing is good, and it’s easy to see why people enjoy Barr’s other works. I really liked Olivia’s family situation, and the way she interacts with her parents and step-parents. Her father, like Olivia, is a fairly quiet person, introverted, with scars Olivia can’t quite see. Her mother is lovely, encouraging without being pushy, and as with her father, we find out more about her own past late in the novel. Both made for compelling characters, and I found I wanted to spend more time with Olivia’s family.
Olivia’s crush on Zoe is sweet, especially when she starts writing e-mails but not sending them, revealing how she feels without actually stepping over the line. It doesn’t help that Zoe has a girlfriend, and I liked how when the girlfriend does come up, Olivia doesn’t really spend time comparing herself to her or getting jealous or nasty. However, when she is in contact with Natasha, her cousin pushes her to just ‘grab what she wants’, and Olivia doesn’t seem to have a problem with the suggestion of ‘taking’ another girl’s girlfriend?
I was fairly up and down on this book throughout, but I do think the second half is stronger than the first. Though towards the end, there is a scene where a character recaps everything we’ve just seen happen, and it felt jarring. The first half felt like it dragged, with not much happening. The closest person to a best friend Olivia has is Max, and throughout she felt really dismissive of him. Once we get to the second half, however, the mystery deepens and the book becomes more engaging.
We see more, Olivia does more, and you kind of get swept along. The end of the world is much less important than the title suggests, but it does provide a good element of tension to the backdrop. The ending felt a touch rushed, almost like there was too much to be resolved in too short a space of time, and because of that some parts felt squeezed in. The book hits its stride when there’s just a little more happening, when there are things Olivia notices and takes note of, rather than when she’s just reacting to things. The characters – especially Olivia’s immediate family – do have lovely interactions, and the very end of the book was written well.
I enjoyed reading Things to Do Before the End of the World, but I didn’t love it, and felt consistently middle-ground throughout, but it’s easy to see this book will find its fan easily and a lot of people are really going to enjoy this one. Definitely check out the over reviews on this tour, as I suspect there are going to be a lot of people who love this and have raved about it.
I started out working as a journalist in London, but always hankered after a quiet room and a book to write. I managed, somehow, to get commissioned to go travelling for a year, and came home with the beginnings of a novel set in the world of backpackers in Asia. This became Backpack, a thriller which won the WH Smith New Talent Award, and I have since written eleven more novels for adults, one novella, and three book for Young Adults, published in the UK and around the world. I live in Cornwall with my husband Craig and our children.