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.
Why You Should Read It:
I can't start this review without confessing my absolute LOVE for this novel's opening paragraph. After I first read it, I read it again. After I finished the whole book, I went back and read that opening one last time:
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. He wouldn't speak much, but he'd be breathing hard as he took off his leather jacket and unbuckled his jeans. He'd wear white pants and he'd be so gorgeous I'd almost faint. He'd take my clothes off too. He'd whisper, 'Tessa, I love you. I really bloody love you. You're beautiful' - exactly those words - as he undressed me.
Break my heart within seconds of starting your novel, Jenny Downham??? Oh, you evil woman!! *curses at the winds* I knew what I was in store for. I knew this wouldn't be the last time my heart would be smashed into a bazillion crumbs. And it wasn't--Before I Die is the story of Tessa, a girl battling leukemia. Yes, it's sad and grim. But it's also beautiful in the most hopeful, joyous way.
The thing I loved most about this book was its honesty. Tessa compiles a list of things to do before she dies, and the reason behind each one felt genuine to me. I could understand her choices even when I wholeheartedly disagreed with some of them. Tessa is blunt, fearful and loving. She's not ready to die, but knows her days are numbered. She sucks at fooling herself into believing otherwise. It's her voice and attitude that made this novel so refreshing for me.
Even so, I didn't always like Tessa. She got on my nerves a lot, but that's what I cherish in characters--they have to make mistakes. They have to get beat up by their bad choices. If not, I'm bored and, worse, disappointed. Before I Die delivered on this front, but a part of me felt like it still had some mileage to go. I wanted More Things to Happen in the plot. The depth was there, but it could've gone into a few more surprising directions.
All in all, this was a solid, moving read for me. I teared up at times. I rolled my eyes at times. And in the end, I felt like I'd never be as good a writer as Jenny Downham. That's the kind of writer who gets my undying love forever.