Thursday, 1 September 2011

Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Tessa is sixteen. She’s dying of leukaemia, and wants to live life to the full before she bows out so she compiles a bucket list – including sex, taking drugs, being famous, doing something illegal and falling in love – but it gets longer and longer as the days she has left reduce; Before I Die is a record of Tessa’s life in her last few months as she strides to fulfil her list before the inevitable – it’s raw and heartbreaking, but it’s also inspirational and carries the message that you should live life to the full.

I told myself before reading that I had to not like Tessa so the book would be relatively easy to read because unlike most books, you know as soon as you start reading that the main character is going to die at the end, and if I liked Tessa I couldn’t bear to read it. Also, I may sound heartless but I’ve never cried at a book or movie yet (I’ve been very close though!) and I was hoping this wouldn’t be my first time; although Tessa is very difficult to like – she’s selfish and pessimistic and bitter (but wouldn’t you be in her situation?) I grew to like her; however, I still didn’t cry, though it may have been because the beautifully done ending wasn’t as upsetting as I imagined it would be. I went on and off Tessa – I loved her witty, refreshing observations of the world, especially now she knows her days are numbered, but I really hated how self-centred she was, though I could understand why, but I do like the fact she had mood swings and actually acted like a proper teenager, unlike most YA protagonists.

I’m very glad that Downham has clearly put huge amounts of research into this book, because it would be almost like a mockery otherwise, and it helps you to learn a bit about the life of a leukaemia patient. It gets a bit graphic due to some of the items on Tessa’s list, but it is done in a kinda subtle way. I’m not surprised to hear it’s being made into a movie, and I’m annoyed but sadly not surprised to hear that the title has been changed to make it more ‘suitable’ - Now Is Good? Seriously?! Who thought that was a good title? 

            The characters were all realistic and fleshed out, though they could have been done a bit more, and I really didn’t like Tessa's annoying friend Zoey. The writing was also very beautiful and poignant. I don’t think I liked being out of my ‘comfort’ zone either as Before I Die is definitely not my usual type of book and I generally avoid sad depressing books like the plague, but I’m glad I read it because it’s made me appreciate life a lot more.
[SYNOPSIS: Tessa has just months to live. Fighting back against hospital visits, endless tests, drugs with excruciating side-effects, Tessa compiles a list. It’s her To Do Before I Die list. And number one is Sex. Released from the constraints of ‘normal’ life, Tessa tastes new experiences to make her feel alive while her failing body struggles to keep up. Tessa’s feelings, her relationships with her father and brother, her estranged mother, her best friend, and her new boyfriend, all are painfully crystallised in the precious weeks before Tessa’s time finally runs out.]


  1. wow, this book sounds really intense. i'm a bit of an emotional wimp, so it sounds like i might shead a tear on this one. i have another book by jenny downham- you against me- but i haven't gotten the chance to read it yet. glad to see that shes a respectable author. great review. love the honesty!

    Kristan @ Lost Amongst the Shelves

  2. @Kristan It is very intense, and a little difficult to get through at times, but it's worth getting through as it makes you appreciate life a lot more :) You probably will, I guess I'm just weird in the fact that I've never cried at a book :P
    You Against Me is brilliant too - I preferred that to this actually, so you should get down to that soon :P
    Thank you - that means a lot to me!


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