Before I Die by Jenny Downham
Paperback, 345 pages
Published October 2008 by Black Swan
Buy this book:
Before I Die is one of those books that I've wanted to read since I heard of it's existence. It was one of those books that I just knew I would love, that would be special to me. However, it's taken me years to pick up the book even though it's been sitting on my bookshelf. It may sound strange, but I always put off books that I really want to read, as you can only experience them for the first time once. I am so glad that reading this book lived up to, or perhaps even exceeded, my expectations.
This book tells the story of Tessa, a girl with terminal illness and a bucket list of things that she is determined to do, including having sex, taking drugs and breaking other laws, before she dies. Tessa is like a lot of teenagers, with the one difference being that she is terminally ill. Our main character is very thought provoking, super brave, sometimes a bit reckless, somewhat scared and a little confused. It is very easy to connect with Tessa as she is a very genuine character and one who I came to truly care for as the book progressed. As you can imagine, Tessa has a lot of mixed feelings about her illness and the end of her life and it is interesting to see how they changed as time went on. I have no idea how I'd react in Tessa's situation, but all I know is that Tessa's thoughts and emotions felt so real.
A lot of relationships are explored in this book in a very touching way, all very impressive. Reading about Tessa's relationship with her close family was very poignant - I really loved her relationship with her brother which had the usual banter and fun of a brother/sister friendship with a serious issue behind it. Tessa's father found his daughter's illness understandably difficult and reacted much in the way as I probably would have in his situation - though he did try to keep strong, his sadness was very evident. I didn't find Tessa's mum to contribute to the book all that much, but perhaps that was because I couldn't relate to her family situation. I was a bit unsure about Tessa's best friend, Zoey. Although their friendship is written well, I am still not sure how I feel about Zoey as a character - Though I was glad she tried to get on with life and help Tessa do the same, I felt she lacked some sensitivity, however there is no doubt that, however dysfunctional their relationship was, Zoey and Tessa were firm friends. The other main relationship in this book was the romantic one between Tessa and Adam. I absolutely loved Adam's attitude and admired his devotion towards Tessa. With a book like this, it could've felt that a romance was just added as an extra, but this really added something to the book - something very special.
Jenny Downham has done an fantastic job of making this book feel real - all of the little added details and the strong, powerful emotions of each character had serious impact. The ending of this book is expectedly heart wrenching and I ended up in floods of tears, however, it felt right - it wrapped up well and though I knew what was coming, it hit me hard. I absolutely adored Downham's writing and look forward to seeing what else she can offer. I'd recommend this for both young adults and adults - it's a book I will be raving about for some time to come!