Sunday, November 21, 2010

Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Title: Before I Die
Author: Jenny Downham
Publisher: David Fickling Books
Paperback, 327 pages
Date Published: May 26, 2009

Description (Taken from Goodreads):
Tessa has just months to live. Fighting back against hospital visits, endless tests, and 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, are all painfully crystallized in the precious weeks before Tessa’s time finally runs out.

Tessa Scott is 16 years old and she’s dying. Leukemia is slowly killing her, but she refuses to let it take her. Before I Die isn’t about Tessa’s impending death; it is about her fight for life. She’s young and wants to live out her life like any other teenager. She wants to have fun and to get away from her dad; she doesn’t want to be stuck in her house, wrapped in blankets and surrounded by medicine.

Downham has created an astonishingly beautiful and heartbreaking story with Before I Die. Gorgeous prose and vivid imagery punctuate Tessa’s every desire and goal. Her list of things to do before she dies starts off so simple, but turns into one of the most exquisite things about the novel.

Tessa’s is three dimensional and full of flaws. She’s rash and rude, and even uncaring at times. Death has made her angry, it has made her fearful, and it has made her crave life in ways no one could ever understand. The first thing on her list: sex. Only it doesn’t exactly work out the way she had hoped, but she doesn’t abandon the list, she adds to it. And somehow, over time and a budding relationship, love makes it onto her list.

The characters that surround Tessa add so much depth to her as a person. They make her that much more realistic and make her emotions that much deeper. Her father is an incredible addition to the book, as is her younger brother Cal. They, along with her friend Zoey and neighbor Adam (and sometimes even her mom), create this cast of supporting characters that pull at your heartstrings and make you ache for a loss that you know is coming.

Never in my life have I cried as much as I did reading Before I Die. The last 50 pages or so are exquisitely beautiful, yet terrifyingly raw. Jenny Downham speaks volumes with her prose as Tessa grapples with the mortality and the life that most of us take for granted. This poignant story will make you hold your family members closer, whisper you love them as they go to sleep, and treasure every moment you have.

Before I Die is harsh and honest and bubbling with all the things we try to avoid, yet Downham’s assessment of death brings closure in its haunting ending. Its pages hold the lives of a narrator who approaches death with fear, but also humor, a love story that builds up to be one of the best I have ever read, and showcases how important family is in the most trying times – life and death, hope and loss. This is honestly one of the best books I have ever read.

Opening lines: I wish I had a boyfriend. I wish he lived in the wardrobe on a coat hanger. Whenever I wanted, I could get him out and he’d look at me the way boys do in films, as if I’m beautiful. ~ pg. 1

Downham’s writing makes it impossible to choose a single favorite line, so here just a few of the many

Favorite lines: It’s not fair. I don’t want to die like this, not before I’ve even lived properly. It seems so clear to me. I feel almost hopeful, which is mad. I want to live before I die. It’s the only thing that makes sense. ~ pg. 54
And this one:
As Zoey turns to face me, I realize that life is made up of a series of moments, each one a journey to the end. ~ pg. 165
And this one between Tessa and her brother Cal:
Last night, when we were watching TV, he tied our legs together with a skipping rope. We looked as if we were entering a three-legged race.
He said, ‘No one will take you if you’re tied to me.’
‘They might take you as well!’
He shrugged, as if that didn’t matter to him. ~ pg. 242
*This review is my honest opinion and I received no monetary compensation from it. 
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~The Book Pixie said...

I like that this book doesn't seem to be all mushy and sappy like some books dealing with these topics. Harsh and honest is what it should be because that is what it's like in real life. Thanks for the great review and I can't wait to read this one for myself! :D


Bere said...

Absolutely wonderful review, Nikki! I will definitely be adding this one to my wishlist. I love your favorite line, the one between Tessa and her brother Cal. That is terrible sweet. It calls to me because I have a fantastic relationship with my 3 brothers. Thank you for bringing this book to my attention, Nikki! =)

Trisha Wolfe said...

I've been wanting to read this book. THanks for the review, it reminded me to pick it up!

Nikki (Wicked Awesome Books) said...

Briana -One of the best things about this book is the fact that it isn't mushy at all. It's hard to read because it should be and I loved it for that.

Bere - I have three brothers as well (2 younger) so Tessa and Cal's relationship really hit home for me.

Trisha - I hope you do get the chance to read it because it is beyond fantastic.

Thanks for stopping by everyone :D

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