Before I Die by Jenny Downham
Release Date – July 5, 2007 (first released)
Publisher Website – David Fickling Books/Random House
Publisher Social Media - Twitter
Pages - 336 pages
My Rating- 8/10
Here is the Goodreads 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.Sometimes a story will grab hold of you and not let go. Sometimes a character will touch you and cause you to care about them so completely because the author has made them all too real. Before I Die is such a story.
This is the first novel I’ve read by Jenny Downham and was immediately drawn in by her writing. It’s emotional, causes you to feel, and she does it with the simplest phrases. I am very much looking forward to reading something else by her.
Tessa is a wonderfully complicated character. Your feelings for her are complicated. Yes, she is a bit preoccupied with herself (maybe stemming on selfish) but at the same time you understand. She’s dying, why shouldn’t she be a little selfish? You do get to care about her, simply because of the way she tackles her illness, the way she embraces what little bit of life she has left, and the way she realizes what is really important in the end. Each time she gets to experience something on her list you silently cheer inside. Each feeling, each emotion, each touch is cause for celebration even as the novel nears it’s unavoidable ending.
I loved that Tessa wasn’t like the main characters you usually find in books like this. Tessa does not go quietly. She is not afraid to scream, yell and admit how much what is happening to her sucks. She doesn’t try to hide it, or lessen the burden for others. She embraces the idea of living her life to the fullest while she can, no matter what. She doesn’t let anything stop her from completing her list of tasks. It shows you that cancer can be filled with such devastating heartbreak, but there are moments in between that shine the brightest light and Tessa chooses to live for those.
Adam is such a wonderful guy. Literally the boy next door. He is there for Tessa in so many ways even as she pushes him away. My favourite scene has to be when Tessa sees that Adam has written her name EVERYWHERE as she is driving home from the hospital. He knew one of the items on the list was to become famous so he made sure her name was everywhere. It was romantic, sweet, and shows exactly what Adam is like. The last few weeks/days/hours of Tessa’s life are ones where Adam sits by her side and I love that he doesn’t run from the pain. He knew it was coming and he loved Tessa anyways, even knowing he would be the one left to pick up the pieces of himself after.
The last few pages, when Tessa’s illness has her hovering between reality and a medicated state is wonderfully written and heartbreaking. You will be reaching for the tissues as she leaves her hopes and wishes for her family. You will want her and Adam to have just one more minute together, one last touch because of the all together too brief time they got to share.
Before I Die will cause you to cry, think about your own “To Do Before I Die list” and leave you wanting to tell everyone you care about that you love them…simply because you don’t know when it’ll be the last time. It’s a book that will touch you and leaves a lasting impression. If anything it teaches you to live, love and laugh as loud as you can each and every day. It’s a message I want to carry with me.