Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
This intensely moving story is now available in paperback.
Tessa has just months to live. Fighting back against hospital visits, endless tests, and 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, are all painfully crystallized in the precious weeks before Tessa’s time finally runs out.
I remember picking up Before I Die years ago in the bookstore. This was pre-blogging days and I really wasn’t reading that much YA. I was reading no contemporary books. I thought that this sounded interesting, but it wasn’t really my thing. I mean, it had no vampires! Oh, how I’ve grown as a reader. I’ve been in the mood for sad books lately and Before I Die started calling to me from my shelf. I was swept up in Tessa’s heart wrenching story from page one.
Before I Die is a cancer book, obviously. I know a lot of readers stay away from these types of books, but I think this one has a very different take on it. We meet Tessa when she only has months to live. She knows this, her family knows, everyone does. It’s sad, but grief is not the focus of the story by any means. There’s no treatments left for Tessa and all she wants to do is finish her list. Her list includes things like lose her virginity, do drugs, and say yes to everything for an entire day.
Tessa is a really interesting and complex character. She wasn’t always likable. She treated people badly and did things that made me cringe, but it was understandable. Her situation is unfathomable for me so I can’t say that her actions were off base. There were also times when I found her really endearing and of course it was impossible not to feel for her. One of my favorite things about the story was her family. It wasn’t perfect, but it was really unique. Her dad was amazing. They way he did everything for her, even when she treated him like crap, just broke my heart. In the best possible way.
Jenny Downham’s writing is utterly gorgeous. Her style is lush and evocative. You can’t help but get completely invested in Tessa’s story. There were, of course, a few tears shed at the end, but Before I Die was one of those heartbreaking books that I’m so glad I read. It’s a beautiful story and I highly recommend it.