Saturday, 19 March 2011

Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Publisher: David Fickling Books
Format: Paperback
Published: First Published: 2007
This Edition: 2010
Number of Pages: 340
Book: Bought
Genre: True to Life Fiction, Romance, YA-Adult Crossover, YA
Warning: Contains sexual-type scenes, drug use and a little petty crime
I recommend it for 14+ readers

“It’s really going to happen.  They said it would, but this is quicker than anyone thought.”

Sixteen-year-old Tessa is going to die.  And she’s made a list of ten things she wants to do in the time she has left.
But getting what you want isn’t easy.  And getting what you want doesn’t always give you what you need.  And sometimes the most unexpected things become the most important.
Uplifting, life-affirming, joyous – this extraordinary novel celebrates what it is to be alive by confronting what it’s really like to die.

 Before I Die is about Tessa Walker, a sixteen year old girl who’s dying from leukaemia.  She’s made up a list – ten things she wants to do before she dies.  And the first is sex.  But she quickly finds out that doing the things on her list isn’t going to be easy, as well as realising that all the little things are what’s important.  Hugging your best friend, talking to your brother, holding your father’s hand.  These are what make life special, and you only realise just how special they are when you know you won’t have them for much longer.
This book was amazing – beyond amazing.  No book I’ve ever read has affected me as much as this one did.  It was just so beautiful, in a horrible, devastating way.  The emotions were so real, the characters felt so real, and everything Tessa went through or thought felt like it was happening to me.  This is the second book in a row to leave me completely uncertain of what to do, how to live after it (Delirium was the first, read my review: here).  Before I Die left me an absolute mess; overwhelmed by sadness, while stunned by the beauty at the same time.
I’m no stranger to cancer: my grandfather died from it when I was quite young.  But I also had a friend who died from it at the age of eleven, having fought it for four or five years.  I remember going to her funeral, thinking of how brave and amazing she’d been, and wondered what she’d felt.  I decided it was impossible; I had never been dying, so I couldn’t imagine.
Then I read Before I Die.  Nothing prepared me for the emotions in it.  Towards the end, I could barely see the pages through all my tears.  I have no idea how Jenny Downham managed to make her writing so authentic and heartfelt.  All I know is that this book is one of my very favourites.  Ever.
Tessa was amazing, and I really felt like I got to know her like a best friend, like I was there with her all the way through.  While accepting her prognosis, it’s obvious she’s furious about it.  She’s a mess of emotions, full of longing about the life she knows she can’t have.  But even through the frustration, she had a sense of humour – admittedly, it was kind of dark, but I loved it, and she really made me laugh.  The way she approached everything was funny at times, but at the same moment was horrible, painful, and so heartbreakingly sad.  I’ve never read a book that made me feel such a muddle of emotions, and I loved how the writing meant I was able to smile through my tears.  Tessa’s hope, bravery and life was contagious, and I found myself praying for a miracle, hoping with all my heart that it would turn out differently for her.  I wanted her to be ok, more than I’ve ever wanted anything in a book.
I have to mention the amazing supporting characters, Tessa’s dad in particular.  He gave up absolutely everything to take care of his daughter, desperately searching for a cure for her.  There’s a quote from Tessa right near the end of the book where she silently tells her father: ‘Dad... For hours you sat in hospitals and never, not once, complained.  You brushed my hair like a mother should.  You gave up work for me, friends for me, four years of your life for me.  You never moaned.  Hardly ever.  You let me have Adam.  You let me have my list.  I was outrageous.  Wanting, wanting so much.  And you never said, ‘That’s enough.  Stop now’.’  If that doesn’t bring tears to your eyes, and make you love her father I don’t know what will.  This explains him better than I can.
Then there’s her younger brother Cal, who’s acting brave, but inside is obviously hurting over losing his big sister.  There are some really sweet, touching and moving conversations between the two of them, and I often ended up crying during them.
Tessa’s best friend Zoey was pretty amazing too.  She really loved Tessa, and was so brave during it all.  It was her help that crossed Number One off the list, and she continues to help Tessa, even after she has a little drama of her own (one that I saw coming).
Then, finally, there’s Adam.  Number Eight: love.  And Adam’s the one who helps her achieve this.  Their relationship was beautiful, and Adam was almost heroic in my eyes: he loves Tessa so much.  (I have to mention that there are a couple of pretty intense sexual references between the two that aren’t suitable for younger teens.)  But you have to read it to see why he’s so incredible.  Because he really, truly is – in my point of view at least.
Tessa’s story just made me stop and think about all the little things.  Yes, this is a book about death and dying, but it shows you just how important life is.  An unbelievably uplifting, life-affirming novel that made me race to get to the end, all the while hoping it would be different to how I knew it would be.  Her story was to the point, but the writing was hauntingly beautiful; so powerful and so full of hope.  I’ll be seriously worried if readers of Before I Die don’t cry at some point during the book.
No matter how old you are – fourteen, twenty-five or forty – this book and this character will stay with you forever.  I’m still randomly bursting into tears as I think back over a certain quote, scene or the book as a whole.  This book moved me more than any ever has before, and it was all so horribly real, and breathtakingly beautiful.  If you’re planning on reading this book, make sure you have a box of tissues with you, because, trust me, you will need them.

Star Rating:
5 Out of 5; I only wish I had a higher rating
Read this book if you liked:
You Against Me by Jenny Downham
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Challenges It's Taking Part In:


Sara said...

Wow, yet another awesome review! This book sounds really good, and I'm sure it will get the reader to think a lot, of death and of living your life while it lasts. I'm not sure One box of tissues would be enough for me if I would read this book, I cry so easily!

Anonymous said...

I read this book last year and it truly was a wonderful book.
I loved the part where she shoplifted and got caught... don't ask me why, but I found that hilarious. She was right, though- it wasn't like she'd have to worry about the consequences of it later in life.

Unknown said...

I absolutely love this book! It's on my must read list. It really makes you think about the way you are and what you can change. I never fail to cry when I'm reading this one.