Saturday, 25 August 2012

Review: Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Author: Jenny Downham. Website, Facebook
Published: 29 April 2010 (David Fickling Books) (first published 2008)
Pages: 336
Amazon: paperback|Kindle
Waterstone's: paperback|e-book
Book Depository: paperback

Source: Bought

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.

My Review:
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.

Rating: 4*
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.


  1. I can't wait for the movie! I loved this book. Definitley check out Downhams other novel. Loved this review sarah :)

    1. Thanks Shannon! :) I went and watched the trailer for the film as soon as I'd finished the book and it looks really good. Can't wait to see it! I'm excited to check out her other book too, thanks for the recommendation :)

  2. I loved this book :) I've read it multiple times (although not for a while) and can't remember the smoking in it, so it mustn't have bothered me, otherwise I think I'd remember. I completely agree about the poignancy of the last few chapters. I've not read any other books by Jenny Downham so will have to look into them.

    I'm not sure about the look of the film from the trailer, maybe it's Dakota Fanning putting me off :P I'm very worried they'll change the ending of the film (like they did with My Sister's Keeper), fingers crossed they don't. I'd like to see it though if I can find someone to go to the cinema with.

    Molly x

  3. I think smoking in books usually passes me by, like smoking in TV shows, because at the end of the day it's true to life. But in this book I noticed Tessa herself smoked, as did her friend and her dad so I couldn't really escape it. I think it's a very personal thing though. The link between smoking and cancer is pretty hard to avoid yet this book didn't mention it at all. Let me know if you read anything else by her, I'm hoping to at some point :D

    I was a bit wary of Dakota Fanning's accent from the trailer - very Bridget Jones! I'm sure I read somewhere that she was supposed to play the lead in My Sister's Keeper but refused to shave her head, so it's interesting she's ended up with a similar role. It seemed they've added more Tessa/Adam stuff to the film from the trailer so that'll be interesting.

    Thanks for commenting Molly, always love hearing your thoughts! :D

  4. That's fair enough :)

    Yes, that's right. I went off Dakota Fanning after she turned down the lead in My Sister's Keeper for that reason.

    Sorry this is a bit short, I'm quite foggy.

    Molly x


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