Before I Die by Jenny Downham
Author: Jenny Downham. Website, Facebook
Published: 29 April 2010 (David Fickling Books) (first published 2008)
Book Depository: paperback
Plot Summary (from Book Depository):
Tessa has just a few months to live. Fighting back against hospital visits, endless 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.
I didn't know a great deal about this book before I bought it, other than it was about a girl who was going to die. The book tells the story of Tessa who has terminal cancer, and has come up with a list of things she wants to do before she dies. Together with her friend Zoey, she sets about ticking off things from her list, the first thing being sex.
This book was a lot gritter than I expected, but I liked that. Tessa's bucket list includes sex, drugs and fame and the things she wants to do are pretty rebellious. It made for a great contrast with other books with similar storylines and really made the book stand out. The first half of the book, in my opinion, was a lot darker than the second. With drugs and sex being on Tessa's list, they obviously crop up a lot throughout the story. I thought they were both handled pretty well.
Tessa herself is a pretty out there character. She's not always the most positive person and she fights against her family and friends but it made her very interesting.The book focusses on Tessa's relationship with her best friend Zoey, as well as Adam, the boy next door. I liked that both Zoey and Adam had their own issues, which sometimes made their relationships with Tessa a bit of a battle. There were plenty of ups and downs and surprises along the way. Tessa's relationship with Adam was one of my favourite parts of the book, because it wasn't your typical teen romance. Tessa knows she has a limited timescale and she's very much focussed on making the most of what she has. A lot of their relationship is centred on the physical side of things but there's some great development between the two characters as they get closer which made me really care about the two of them.
The writing in this book was what made it so brilliant. The author has this great way of describing Tessa's view of the world which was really striking. The second half of the book in particular blew me away and the last couple of chapters were some of the most poignant writing I've ever read. I really felt like I was inside Tessa's head and could feel the emotions she was going through. It made for a very powerful book, indeed.
My only real flaw with this book was a personal one, and so I'm trying not to judge the book too harshly for it. There's a lot of smoking in this book and for a book about cancer, specifically a teenager with cancer, it just made me uncomfortable. I have very strong views about that sort of thing so it's quite hard for me to put that to one side completely. Obviously it might not bother everyone but it slightly tinged the book for me.
Before I Die is a beautifully written, gritty, dark take on the cancer story. It's about embracing life and falling in love, friendships and family and what matters.
What to read next: You Against Me by Jenny Downham
Books like this: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
Before I Die has been adapted into the film Now is Good which is released next month. Watch the trailer here.