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.
No matter how old you are - fourteen, twenty-five or forty – this book and this character will stay with you forever.
Before I Die is about Tessa Walker, a sixteen year old girl who's dying from leukaemia. She's made up a list - ten things she wants to do before she dies. And the first is sex. But she quickly finds out that doing the things on her list isn't going to be easy, as well as realising that all the little things are what's important. Hugging your best friend, talking to your brother, holding your father's hand. These are what make life special, and you only realise just how special they are when you know you won't have them for much longer.
This book was amazing - beyond amazing. No book I've ever read has affected me as much as this one did. It was just so beautiful, in a horrible, devastating way. The emotions were so real, the characters felt so real, and everything Tessa went through or thought felt like it was happening to me. This is the second book in a row to leave me completely uncertain of what to do, how to live after it. Before I Die left me an absolute mess; overwhelmed by sadness, while stunned by the beauty at the same time.
I'm no stranger to cancer: my grandfather died from it when I was quite young. But I also had a friend who died from it at the age of eleven, having fought it for four or five years. I remember going to her funeral, thinking of how brave and amazing she'd been, and wondered what she'd felt. I decided it was impossible; I had never been dying, so I couldn't imagine.
Then I read Before I Die. Nothing prepared me for the emotions in it. Towards the end, I could barely see the pages through all my tears. I have no idea how Jenny Downham managed to make her writing so authentic and heartfelt. All I know is that this book is one of my very favourites. Ever.
Tessa was amazing, and I really felt like I got to know her like a best friend, like I was there with her all the way through. While accepting her prognosis, it's obvious she's furious about it. She's a mess of emotions, full of longing about the life she knows she can't have. But even through the frustration, she had a sense of humour – admittedly, it was kind of dark, but I loved it, and she really made me laugh. The way she approached everything was funny at times, but at the same moment was horrible, painful, and so heartbreakingly sad. I've never read a book that made me feel such a muddle of emotions, and I loved how the writing meant I was able to smile through my tears. Tessa's hope, bravery and life was contagious, and I found myself praying for a miracle, hoping with all my heart that it would turn out differently for her. I wanted her to be ok, more than I've ever wanted anything in a book.
I have to mention the amazing supporting characters, Tessa's dad in particular. He gave up absolutely everything to take care of his daughter, desperately searching for a cure for her. There's a quote from Tessa right near the end of the book where she silently tells her father: "Dad... For hours you sat in hospitals and never, not once, complained. You brushed my hair like a mother should. You gave up work for me, friends for me, four years of your life for me. You never moaned. Hardly ever. You let me have Adam. You let me have my list. I was outrageous. Wanting, wanting so much. And you never said, ‘That's enough. Stop now’." If that doesn't bring tears to your eyes, and make you love her father I don't know what will. This explains him better than I can.
Then there's her younger brother Cal, whose acting brave, but inside is obviously hurting over losing his big sister. There are some really sweet, touching and moving conversations between the two of them, and I often ended up crying during them.
Tessa's best friend Zoey was pretty amazing too. She really loved Tessa, and was so brave during it all. It was her help that crossed Number One off the list, and she continues to help Tessa, even after she has a little drama of her own (one that I saw coming).
Then, finally, there's Adam. Number Eight: love. And Adam's the one who helps her achieve this. Their relationship was beautiful, and Adam was almost heroic in my eyes: he loves Tessa so much. (I have to mention that there are a couple of pretty intense sexual references between the two that aren't suitable for younger teens.) But you have to read it to see why he's so incredible. Because he really, truly is - in my point of view at least.
Tessa's story just made me stop and think about all the little things. Yes, this is a book about death and dying, but it shows you just how important life is. An unbelievably uplifting, life-affirming novel that made me race to get to the end, all the while hoping it would be different to how I knew it would be. Her story was to the point, but the writing was hauntingly beautiful; so powerful and so full of hope. I'll be seriously worried if readers of Before I Die don't cry at some point during the book.
No matter how old you are - fourteen, twenty-five or forty - this book and this character will stay with you forever. I'm still randomly bursting into tears as I think back over a certain quote, scene or the book as a whole. This book moved me more than any ever has before, and it was all so horribly real, and breathtakingly beautiful. If you're planning on reading this book, make sure you have a box of tissues with you, because, trust me, you will need them. Posted by TheBook AddictedGirl Paperback recommendation
Add your recommendation
Only registered users can recommend books. Please use the buttons below to either create a new account, or sign-in to an existing account.
Before I Die is so real, so sad, so true - and I so wish I'd written it myself - Jacqueline Wilson
Novels for young teenagers do not usually feature drugs and casual sex within the first 20-odd pages. But most books for teenagers will not leave an adult reader's eyes so blurry with tears that it's hard to see the final chapters. Jenny Downham's extraordinary first novel does both - The Sunday Times
Tough but tender, angry rather than resigned, Tessa is an appealing heroine whose company is never less than bracing - Independent
This is an affecting and brave novel. Tessa is such a rich character . . . For everyone, it is a reminder to value the people that matter, seize the moment, wish with courage, adventure with relish, even if it's just a trip to the swimming pool, drinking hot chocolate or driving down a dual carriageway in the rain - Guardian
Destined to drive hundreds of thousands of readers to tears and to swift injunctions to all their friends to read it - Observer
It's a novel that won't fail to touch those who read it, and despite the melancholy subject matter it manages to be hugely life-affirming. A book that will make you happy to be alive. 5 stars - Heat
It is the most amazing book I have read for a very long time. Even editors can be moved - and Before I Die surely did it to me. The voice of this girl is brilliant, the story so well written, I could not stop reading - knowing that there is no happy ending, knowing that only a slow read will give Tessa more time to live . . . A perfect book about the meaning of life - Christian Rohr, Bertelsmann
Beautifully written tale - The Bookseller
Linguistic quirks and references to popular culture place this book at the heart of the world currently inhabited by teenagers and its frank, and at times almost nonchalant, discussion of crime, sex and death assures that it does not preach or patronise. This truly is an extraordinary debut novel - Writeaway.org
Moving and extremely affecting . . . Whilst the story of a young girl with terminal leukaemia may not be the easiest of subject matters, the uplifting and perceptive way in which it is written made this a joy to read - Publishing News
It's beautifully, lyrically written with a penetrating awareness that flows from the book right into the reader . . . Jenny Downham has written about a life that burned brightly and in doing so, given us the life-affirming impulse to make ours burn brightly too - thebookbag.co.uk
Downham's prose is brave and bare, her characters relentlessly realistic - Sunday Telegraph
A work of great humanity and profound empathy. I defy anyone not to cry reading this book - Daily Express
This is an oddly uplifting novel. It's about love and friendship and family. It deals with death, but it's a hymn to life - The Irish Times
Writing about dying children can sometimes seem too easy a target for instant emotion but [Downham] always does much better than that - Independent
Captivating and emotionally turbulent this extrordinary book is ultimately a celebration of life - Carousel
This excellent novel is not for the faint hearted, but it deserves to be very widely read - The School Librarian
The book's invevitable ending is handled lyrically, convincingly - Inis
Gripping, heart-wrenching - Irish Independent
It is a brilliant look at death, life and love . . . Ultimately heart-warming - Newcastle Upon Tyne Journal