“The Bucket List” is like “Twilight,” except backwards. Misfit college student Leah Clarke falls wildly in love with Damon, a gorgeous, charming neighbor who overcomes his scruples and returns her affection, showering her with love, devotion, and a luxurious, jet-setting lifestyle. Only instead of being immortal, he has a terminal illness.
This is a daring take on a conventional genre, since we know for a fact that there isn’t going to be a happy ending here. Still, much of the book is very much in the vein of teen (the characters are about 20, but the emotions are adolescent) romance, with over-the-top emotional reactions that may strike a chord with teenage readers, although older readers (such as myself) may find it a trifle overblown. There isn’t a lot of external detail–the specific illness is never named, and neither are the precise financial arrangements that allow Damon and Leah to avoid work and school for a year and fly first class to Hawaii, visit Paris, and take a zero G flight (consumed with idle curiosity, I checked–those things run at about $5000 a pop); instead, the focus is on Leah’s rollercoastering feelings as she plunges ever deeper into her affair with Damon.
This aspect of the book certainly sets it apart from its peers: while this is basically a wish-fulfillment romance novel in which the heroine is nurtured and cared for by a maternal hero, as described by Janice Radway in “Reading the Romance,” the awareness of Damon’s looming demise prevents it from being too saccharine and also makes the book cry out for a complex feminist reading: is Leah selflessly devoting herself to Damon to bring some comfort to his final days, is she using him to get an emotional charge and work on her own individual growth, or is she working within the patriarchy to appropriate some of its hoarded material goods in a socially non-threatening fashion? Answer: like all romance heroines, all of the above.
Anyway, all thoughts of literary theory aside, this book, which is basically like a cross between “Twilight” and “The Fault in Our Stars,” is likely to appeal to teen readers who are looking for an emotionally intense romance that’s also a bit of a weepy. While Leah and Damon are in many ways conventional characters, Damon in particular has some excellent lines as he contemplates his impending mortality, and the ending is genuinely touching.
My thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
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