October 15th, 2013

Before I Die

by Jenny Downham

Ana's Rating

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Tessa has just a few 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, her new boyfriend, all are painfully crystallized in the precious weeks before Tessa’s time finally runs out.

Before I Die is a brilliantly-crafted novel, heartbreaking yet astonishingly life-affirming. It will take you to the very edge.


Happy Tuesday! In honour of this week’s theme, ‘Top 10 Forced Reads,’ I’m reviewing Before I Die, which was recently lovingly recommended to me by my lovely friends. As luck would have it, they appreciate a good hard cry as much as I do.

I have to give them credit, both for sticking it out and waiting patiently for this novel to pick up the pace, and for ignoring my exceedingly abundant complaints while I waited (im)patiently for the same occurrence.  Because before Before I Die hit the half-way mark, I have to be honest in saying that I was never truly invested.  Tessa was melodramatic, selfish, and  a wee bit strange, her best friend was a judgmental airhead, and her family was nothing more than dysfunctional and incapable of dealing with her decreasing level of health. Jenny Downham had a talent for plucking at heartstrings: nothing more and nothing less. Tessa had terminal cancer and one helluva bucket list, but that was nothing I hadn’t read before.

Really, it’s unfortunate that it took so long for the characters to endear me. I apply the term ‘endear’ loosely because, frankly, I still don’t really like Tessa as a person. Nevertheless I feel like we’ve gone through so much together that it would be impossible for us not to be inextricably linked. Despite never being able to legitimately relate to her, I experienced every one of her emotions vicariously and vivaciously. Thank you, Jenny Downham, for making that possible.

The best part of Before I Die is its honesty. There’s so much more to dying young than #YOLO, leaving a good-looking  corpse, and The Band Perry, and yet being a thoughtless teenager is exactly what Tessa craves. This novel is so brutal, so overwhelming, so raw that you can’t help but be swept away on a tidal wave of emotions. Its prose is written to wet eyes and break hearts.

The only character who never really clicked for me was Adam. I appreciate the fact that the protagonist, in keeping with the novel’s harsh truths,  proclaimed that he was ugly and fell in love with him anyway. Nonetheless, he never felt real to me. I guess it’s hypocritical to say that I’m disappointed that he met each and every one of my expectations, but there it is. He was too supportive for this bitter book.

I hate to compare Before I Die to If I Stay, but the titles more or less behoove that. All that really needs to be said is that I enjoyed Before I Die infinitely more. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver is the last in a long line of books whose titles never cease to muddle me, and it is so next on my TBR list.

The ending? Yes, I broke down. Yes, I sobbed and bawled and wept. Yes, I was on a road trip and thus became the mascara-stained target of my family’s all too sarcastic remarks. No, I don’t regret a thing. Contrary to popular belief, crying at books makes me happy.

First impressions matter, it’s true, but lasting impressions matter more. Before I Die succeeded to come through on the latter, if not the former. Recommended to all those who need a good cry. 4.4/5 stars.


I’ll keep you posted,


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One Response to Before I Die

  1. Pingback: Top 10 books I almost put down (but didn’t) | What YA Reading?

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