Thursday, December 2, 2010
Anna reviews 'Before I Die' by Jenny Downham
Name: Before I Die
Author: Jenny Downham
Publisher: Random House, 2007
How I got it: I bought it.
Rating: 5 stars
Synopsis: Tessa is sixteen years old and terminally ill with leukemia. In the last few months before she dies, she makes a list of all the things she wants to do before her death.
Tessa is your average sixteen year old girl. She's smart, witty, and the list that she compiles before her death is exactly what you'd expect from a sixteen year old: get a boyfriend, lose her virginity,fall in love, become famous. She asks her best friend Zoey to ensure she carries out the list no matter what. Her divorced parents struggle to accept that their daughter will die soon, while her younger brother Cal is cheerful and matter-of-fact about the situation.
The characters in this book are amazing. Although Tessa is only sixteen, being terminally ill with leukemia has made her wise beyond her years. She has trouble accepting her death at times, and feels older than her parents as they struggle to do so. Her mother, who abandoned her until very recently, is clueless about how to look after Tessa while her father is desperate, searching for any cure that can save his daughter. She falls in love with her next door neighbour Adam, and their relationship is a complex one. Part of her desperately wants Adam and their love to save her, which she knows is ultimately impossible. Although he loves Tessa, Adam finds it hard to be there for her in the way she wants him to. He is brave- he knows that her death will cause him a tremendous amount of grief yet he is there for her every step of the way, never holding back. Honestly, I found this completely heartbreaking- they had just found each other, they were tremendously happy together, yet they knew that their happiness could only ever be momentary as Tessa has only a few short months to live.
Another fantastic thing about this book is Tessa coming to terms with her illness, and the way in which death is dealt with. Early on in the book, Tessa, Adam and Zoey go to the woods and take magic mushrooms. Tessa is desperate to be healthy and gets very excited in the woods and tells Adam she thinks it has cured her: "I'm not sick any more...I need to stay here in this wood. I need to stay away from the modern world and all its gadgets and then I won't be sick. You can stay with me if you want..We'll grow vegetables". I had tears in my eyes at this point- she had an early death sentence pronounced on her which she tried, but ultimately could not escape. Later on she is angry with everyone, that they'll go on living while she'll be buried underground. As the book progresses and Tessa gets weaker and weaker, her thoughts become more fleeting and she sees death everywhere. The book literally ends on the moment when she dies.
This is a truly extraordinary, unforgettable book. It took a while for me to get into the book, but once I did I was hooked! Downham's book is touching and well written; although it deals with a fairly unpleasant subject, it is ultimately an uplifting book. It is also a major tear-jerker! Overall an amazing book, and a well-deserved five stars.
Discussion: What would be on YOUR list of things to do before you die?