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I picked up 'Before I die' in chance at a book shop in the Highlands of Scotland years ago. I can't stand anything sci-fi or fantasy and all that vampire crap makes me so bored, I love a good rom-com or anything realistic enough that I can imagine the characters being my friends, enemies, family, neighbours or even, myself. I've read a good few books that have shaken me to the core and changed my whole outlook on life, and I definitely feel that 'Before I die' is one of them, and I'll tell you why!
"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."
The main characters are Tessa, the feisty and dark teenager who is fighting a losing battle against cancer, Tessa's Dad, the worrier, Tessa's brother, the carefree image of Tessa when she was younger, Zoey, the self absorbed best friend, Tessa's Mum, the former run away and now fighting to become no1 Mum and of course, Adam, the troubled loner who happens to be Tessa's neighbour and they fall inlove throughout the story. I feel that Downham should be warmly credited for her characterisation as the reader can find faults in all of the characters but can't help but feel affection and warmth towards them. Tessa is vengeful and you can really feel her rage and pessimism right from the start and although her circumstances are devastating she fights to have life as normally as she possibly can by doing outrageous things that teenagers today take for granted as everyday life. Despite her hard exterior, Tessa is very sensitive and notices things around her that most people don't, such as discussing her awareness of human reactions especially towards her illness. As a reader I felt like I was experiencing everything with Tessa and really bonded with her. Tessa and her family have a push/pull relationship, her brother maintains the normality that Tessa often craves and she enjoys spending time with him as she acknowledged more than once throughout the book that he is prone to be kept on the back burner due to her illness. Tessa's Dad frets after her health and ensures that she is kept on a highly nutritious diet and on the look out for new therapies to prolong her life and keep her safe and sound from harm, which at times irritates Tessa (and the reader.) As a reader I didn't feel like I got to know Tessa's Mum as she left for years when Tessa was little and appeared back on the scene when Tessa became ill. She is presented as a caring, happy-go-lucky character which at times clashes with Tessa's dark and snippy character. Zoey and Adam compliment eachother well as Tessa's close friends as Zoey is a self absorbed typical teenager who cares about boys, parties, drugs and going to college which is everything Tessa wishes she had. Adam reflects Tessa more than she realises, as he spends his days gardening and looking after his Mum who appears to have her own troubles too. Adam at first appears strange and it takes a while for the reader to grow to him, however he is presented as a caring, thoughtful young man who comforts Tessa in the hardest days.
The more obvious theme of 'Before I die' is how teenagers are affected by cancer, especially in a society where the stigma of 'the cancer patient' is patronising and almost sacred. Tessa is the opposite of what you would picture as a typical 'cancer patient' as she's ballsy, feisty, humorous and so full of life despite her physical limitations which is very enlightening and really opens your eyes to what it's ACTUALLY like to be 16 years old with cancer. Downham has evidently researched the subject well and although there is a lot of medical jargon thrown in, it makes the story more believable and also provides the reader with a more adequate insight into life with cancer. The story does include scenes of when Tessa's actions and experiences affect her physical health (when she jumps into a freezing cold river because her friend told her to) and as a reader you really experience these with her and feel the pain in your own bones with clever use of imagery.
Another powerful theme used by Downham is also live life as full as you can. When Tessa felt well enough, she created a list of relatively big things (sex, drugs, see the world..) that she hoped to achieve before she died, but as she got closer to her last days the little things were more important (love, kisses, spring.) As the reader, I created my own list with Tessa too. At the beginning of the book I made my very own bucket list of big, extravagant things I'd like to do before I die but as I read on, I realised that it's the little things that get me through my day.
This book was so incredibly powerful. Tessa really touched my life and this book gave me invaluable insight into what it's like to live with cancer as a teenager and the bravery of families all over the country who are dealing with the very situation of watching a dear, loved one fading away infront of you. Jenny Downham created a masterpiece with this book and created the scenario beautifully, and I'm sure teenagers with terminal illnesses all over will be able to relate to Tessa in some way. I felt the frustration from Tessa, the pain from Tessa's Dad and the love from Adam. This story was absolutely beautiful and despite reading it about 100 times already, I still cry as much as I did when I first read it.
This book was heartbreaking. The last few chapters I had to read through tear blurred eyes, even though from the beginning, I knew there would be no happy ending...
The story follows Tessa, a teenage girl diagnosed with Leukaemia, who already knows she is in the final few months of her life. Rather than sit at home, humouring her dad with his latest 'google' discovery of ways to prolong her life, she calls up her best friend and makes a list. The top ten things she is determined to do before she dies. Starting with sex.
Yet even as she tries her hand at drugs, shoplifting and even fame, Tessa never expects to accomplish her last wish. To fall in love. But then she meets Adam, and suddenly her world becomes a whole lot brighter. However each day, Tessa feels her body failing and knowing her final sun set is fast approaching... she wonders if she will have the courage to face her inevitable goodbye...
I did enjoy this book, although it took me almost halfway before I truly got into the story. I didn't particularly like Tessa's character at first. I thought she seemed very detached from her feelings so I found it hard to sympathize with her. This may have been a ploy on the authors' part; perhaps Tessa truly did dismiss her own feelings in order to better cope with the fate dealt to her. Yet as soon as she starts having tantrums and more emotional outbursts, that was when I feel you really connect with her and her situation.
Also watching how Tessa's family and friends reacted to her illness was both heart-wrenching and maddening. Her father is over protective, her mother, unable-to-cope has an affair and appears only sporadically. Then there is Tessa's little brother, who was loving but still a little ignorant towards her pending death. All these characters really impacted upon me the harsh reality that the people whose loved ones have terminal illnesses face each day. I would say some are just as brave as those who are dying.
Adam, particularly, was a really humane character. His dilemma was that he didn't want to have his heartbroken by falling in love with a dying girl - not that his heart gave him much choice in the matter. However watching him struggle with their relationship - especially as Tessa's time draws closer and she becomes frailer - was incredibly moving. Afraid to touch her, Adam stays by her side throughout it all. Yet he also knows he must live on when she is gone - and for him no one was a better teacher on how to 'live' life than Tessa.
So although sad, it really is an enlightening book. One that makes you consider the trials and sufferings of others. And teaches you to live each day with a purpose by reminding us how short life can be. A really moving read, I give Before I Die 3 ½ stars!
This is a book namely ''Before I die'' by the British novelist and ex-actor Jenny Downham. Jenny downham has published only ''TWO'' books, before I die and You against me, with this book being the most successful. Before I die has previously been the winner of 4 awards including the 2007 guardian award and 3 following awards in 2008 including the lancashire book of the year, the Branford Boase award aswell as the Booktrust teenage prize, thus, emphasising how great this book is which would be further discussed within this review.
Before I die is about a young girl named Tessa Scott who is suffering and infact dieng from lukeimeia (also known as cancer) and is unaware of the exact day that she will die, yet, acknowledges that the world will be over for her soon. Thus, Tessa has a list of things to do before her death day arrives. The book technically revolves around this list with roughly about 10 very interesting things Tessa awaits to do before she dies. Including crime, sex and drugs! I am not personally a fan of books and reading, however, this book certainly and surprisingly catched my attention due to it's first pages allowing me to be extremely eager to carry on reading in order to find out what happens next. This is due to the fantastic literary and linguistic techniques included certainly creating ambiguity and therefore giving us the eagerness to finish the book as quickly as possibble!
I will definitely associate this book with extremely uplifting books allowing your emotions to alter throughout, beginning with joyful and full of laughter moments and ending with tears. Tends to include very shocking information of the occurences within the book, allowing your eyes to widen whilst reading and those rapid heart beat feelings to occur making it contain the ability to be highly interesting.
The characters within the book:
Zoey, who is a rebellious, fun and very attractive friend of Tessa, who could be called ''The bad influence'' helps Tessa finish the list as she is highly experienced with pretty much everything on it. This makes the book increasingly interesting and dramatic. Zoey eventually falls pregnant due to the large amount of one night stands she has with boys that do not love her and therefore alot of curiousity is caused to whether or not Tessa will have the ability to make it through to the birth of Zoey's baby or not (don't want to spoilt it for you) but just giving you a rough idea on what it's about. Another character within the book is Adam, Tessa's next door neighbour who she eventually falls in love with, giving the book a romantic and therefore uplifting effect. Will the ''sex'' on the list be with him? Not forgetting to add that a large amount of in depth sexual context is included within the book, thus, may not be suitable for children under the ages of 16.
Moving on to Tessa's family, Tessa's younger brother Cal and her mother and father with their relationship problems as they are divorced. Cal loves to tell jokes and have fun with friends, adding to the bright sides of the story and therefore allowing us to gain differential emotions throughout due to good ''comedy factors'' included. Cal is also presented as a strong hearted young boy and therefore the moments in which Cal bursts out in the emotions he feels towards Tessa's death allows the book to become increasingly heart touching. On the other hand, Tessa's mother in the book is not one of Tessa's fans within the book as we have the ability to identify this due to the taboo lexis/ rude comments Tessa uses when describing or speaking about her mother, juxteposing with the strong relationship Tessa and her father's relationship contains.
Overall, the characters and the story line within the book is highly interlinked with real life situations and therefore allows the book to be affective to different people in many differential ways, according to your personal circumstances. My personal circumstances allowed me aswell as other people i know appreciate the fact that we are alive and make the most of life before its too late. Thus, I would associate this book with highly motivating books due to the ways in which Tessa appreciates life by constantly exploring the beauty of nature. This therefore allows us as individuals appreciate even the most little things on earth. However, in regards to the readability of this book, I wouldn't personally re-read this book due to expecting an ending that was more dramatic, yet, did not find this within Downham's book ''before I die'' which was probably due to me feeling slightly confused, however, may not be the case for you. on the other hand, in order to overcome this confusion, I purchased this book on audio and therefore had it read out which allowed me to enjoy it very much. This book aswell as the audio version of it can be purchased on amazon or ebay for cheaper than local book shops, however, could also be taken out of your local library with it most likely to be available due to its popularity.
Further possibbly useful information:
The blurb reads:
left, sixteen-year-old Tess knows it better than most. She's made a list
of ten things she wants to do before she dies. But getting what you want
isn't easy. And getting what you want doesn't always give you what you
need. And sometimes the most unexpected things become important.
Uplifting, life-affirming, joyous - this extraordinary novel celebrates what it
is to be alive by confronting what it's really like to die".
Some life-affirming quotes from the novel:
"Then she says, 'I love you.' Like three drops of blood falling onto snow."
"I want the people I love to get up and speak about me, and even if you cry it'll be OK. I want you to say honest things."
''It's really going to happen. I really won't ever go back to school. Not ever. I'll never be famous or leave anything worthwhile behind. I'll never go to college or have a job. I won't see my brother grow up. I won't travel, never earn money, never drive, never fall in love or leave home or get my own house.
It's really, really true.
A thought stabs up, growing from my toes and ripping through me, until it stifles everything else and becomes the only thing I'm thinking. It fills me up like a silent scream."
The above quotes are stated within the book before I die and therefore emphasises the ways in which tension and ambiguity is created within the book.
Alternative authors have also commented about this book and many of the quotes by these alternative authors state that the book is highly exciting due to it allowing the audience to gain a psychological interiority with the characters. Specifically Tessa.
In order to purchase the book, copy and paste the following links:
Available from the price range of only £3.45
However, i believe the best audience for this book would be teenage girls due to many real teenage girl experiences occuring within the book that teenage girls would be highly familiar with and therefore understand the book and its moral in depth. Teenage boys can also be an audience of this book due to it having the ability to allow teenage boys to understand the consequences of sex and protection and the responsibilities of getting a girl pregnant. The book is also useful for adults as adults can gain the ability to understand what life really means and how lucky they are to be the age that they are as not many have the ability to live as long as them.
For any questions please dont hesitate to ask.
This is a review of the 2007 book 'Before I die' by Jenny Downham. It's a young adult fiction book about a teenager who has little time left before she dies and she makes a plan of the things she feels she still needs to do. This wouldn't be a typical choice to read for me but it was in a load of books I won so it was going to get read anyway!
A little on the story line
Tessa is 16 and has a life threatening illness so begins a list which runs parallel to the story. She wants to do things like break the law, have sex, go clubbing, do silly things like say yes to everything for a day, and ultimately she wants to experience true love.
Family is key in the book. With separated parents and frankly, an oddball mother, Tessa's Dad is her rock and he is determined to try and do the right thing for her. Tessa's brother has a loose grip on the reality of her illness and swings from being her annoying little brother to someone who cares very much about what's happening to her.
Sad but real
The book's storyline is really sad, and it makes you feel for people and families in Tessa's position. Alongside the story is a group of people who will do anything for her and they humour all her whims and her tantrums with good nature.
I love it when Tessa goes out with her credit card determined to do some damage. She feels sorry for it later but her dad says it doesn't matter. Second to this is her dying wish where she dedicates her £250 savings to the funeral wake party in the local pub telling people that they must have puddings!
Adam is just perfect for Tessa. He gets it just right every time and is so mature with her. He loves her unconditionally and does everything he can to make her happy despite having his own home committments and manages to plan his life for when Tessa is not there without it sounding mean.
I think this is very upsetting to read and the author has done a good job of telling a sad story. As it is young adult fiction the language is basic and easy to read. The content is so sad and shocking it is not something you would say you enjoyed but it does make you appreciate things in life we take for granted like birds singing and nature.
Tessa considers herself to be the unlucky one in a big room full of people and has vivid dreams about things that are happening including what it will be like when she is dead. The list helps her to focus on the things she needs to do before she dies, but as she is compiling it she acknowledges that it could go on forever and in fact she is definitely not ready to die yet. Her friends and family construct the right amount of support and encouragement around her, giving her space and privacy when she needs it. Whilst all people who are terminally ill are brave there is something equally admirable about a teen who is able to deal with the concept of their own untimely death.
Before I Die follows the story of Tessa as she sets out to fulfil her own bucket listafter being told she has terminal cancer.
Thoughts / Opinions:
A deeply moving novel, but reduced slightly by an inability to truly connect with Tessa, despite the first person narrative - it had a distinct opportunity to be something great but something let it down. The items on her list are quite stereotypical, with sex, drugs and law breaking, which although are reasonable when taking into account her age and what she may miss out on, yet it takes away from the originality that would have made this book so much better.
Having said this, Downham finds a way to highlight the true nature of a disease that has taken over Tessa, in such a way that it approaches a horribly realistic subject to teenagers, enabling them to understand what it must be like.
To me, I did not enjoy this novel as much as I thought I would - HOWEVER, that said, it would be an ideal book for younger teenagers who want to understand some of the intricacies in life. Its simplistic nature enables an understanding of not only the motions of cancer, but also of relationships between parents, friends and love.
Before I Die is the first YA novel by Jenny Downham. It was first published in 2007 but has had multiple make-overs from then until 2010. The book was published by David Flickering Books (Random House) and the newest version is 327 pages long.
Sixteen year old Tessa is dying. She knows she doesn't have that long left and there is no cure. Instead of sitting around feeling sorry for herself, Tessa makes a list of things she wants to do before she dies.
No. 1 - Sex
Tessa's Dad is extremely protective of her, especially since she got ill so Tessa has to go behind his back to complete her list. Best friend Zoey is on hand to help but doesn't always give her what she needs. Taking a chance on her own, Tessa begins to go off the rails, until she meets Adam. The guy from next door is unlike anyone that Zoey has tried to set her up with. He's different. He cares. He's everything that should be bad for Tessa but she can't help herself. She might be dying but she's also falling in love.
What I thought
I had heard a lot of great things about this book but knowing the subject matter, I really had to be in the mood to read it. One night when I couldn't sleep, I picked this up...and I didn't put it down.
How could you not feel for Tessa? I thought she handled her illness extremely well considering everything that was going on around her. I think if that were me, I would also want to achieve certain things before I died, especially only being 16 years old. The things on her list were, for the most part, very reasonable and I think quite common for anyone her age. Who would want to die a virgin? Who doesn't want to do some crazy things in her lifetime? Her list got me thinking about the things I would have put on my own at 16 and I think that a lot of them would have been the same. I wouldn't have cared whether they were plausible or not.
I loved Adam and could tell that he was going to be someone amazing to Tessa. Their relationship is far from happy all the time and the pace of how things work out was realistic. This is definitely not one of those books where a couple fall in love stupidly fast and everything works out well. Their relationship is hard and it takes a lot of work, both Tessa and Adam have their own problems and dreams to work though. Adam was slightly mysterious to start with but I was glad to see that his secrets were slowly revealed. I think Adam was the best thing that could have happened to Tessa as it changed the whole way that she looked at the rest of her life. At least she got to be happy, even if it was for a short time.
I really didn't like Zoey for the most part of the book. She was horrible and extremely selfish when it came to helping Tessa with the things that she wanted to do. She was pushy and arrogant and I didn't warm to her at all, not even at the end of the book. I was glad when Adam appeared in Tessa's life and showed her what a real friend was like. I think that Tessa would have been much better off without Zoey being around her so much at such a hard time in everyone's lives.
Watching how Tessa's family cope with the situation was very interesting. The way her Dad reacts to certain things changes all of the time, like he is coping better at certain times, rather than others. Putting all of that aside, he really is Tessa's rock, always being there for her and thinking of what is best, even if she doesn't believe that herself. Little brother, Cal was one of the characters that I felt the most sorry for though. He didn't really know what was going on, other than the fact that his sister was ill and he didn't know what to do about it. Cal got angry a lot of the time because his sister was getting a lot of attention and he was feeling left out. It was a shame that the family didn't have more support so that Cal didn't have to feel like this though.
Before I Die has got to be the saddest book I have ever read. I love Nicholas Sparks' A Walk to Remember and this book made me think of that a lot. There are a lot of similarities but they are completely different stories. I can't remember the last time I cried so hard at a contemporary novel. It was so much that I had to put the book down for a minute and sort my eyes out so I could actually see and finish it. Before I Die is a must read and one that I wish I had read a lot sooner.
I was pottering around the local library yesterday looking for some good books to get me through the summer holidays, a bit of escapism never hurt anyone, I had picked up a couple of books by the authors I read regularly when I noticed this one on the bottom shelf. The cover is quite plain and covered in quotes from newspaper book reviews full of praise for the story and author, the blurb is very short and to be honest is quite depressing but the title had me interested so I picked it up and decided to give it a go.
The story is about a 16 year old girl who is dying from cancer. I know that sounds quite a morbid story but the book is fantastically written and handles the emotions involved beautifully. Apart from the fact that Tessa has lost her battle with cancer she is a regular teenager, her parents split up when she was twelve, not long before her first diagnosis, and she now lives with her dad and brother cal. Her dad has been there for her through all the treatments and stays in hospital while her mum has flitted in and out of her life at irregular intervals.
Tessa has made a list of all the things she would like to do before she dies, such as get drunk, do drugs, break the law etc and the story follows her and her friend Zoey as they steadily make there way through the list. At first the book is focused on the anger Tessa obviously feels at the fact that she is going to die, she works her way through the anger and her list doing a lot of stuff that gets her in a lot bother, her dad is frustrated by her behaviour but tries hard to understand what she is going through. As you go through the book the anger fades and the list changes as Tessa comes to terms with her diagnosis and the inevitable conclusion.
There is a lot of dark humour to the book with the situations Tessa gets herself into but you can understand why she is behaving like she is, her life has unfairly been cut short, she will never realise her full potential. The story is not full of medical jargon and that makes it an easy read, I really enjoyed this book and read it within a day, it is genuinely unputdownable. I'm not sure who I would recommend this book to; I only know that I do recommend it. The descriptive writing had me smiling, laughing out loud, shaking my head with frustration and crying. The story also made me think of my granddad who lost his battle with cancer 2 years ago and I shed a few tears for him while I was reading.
In conclusion this is a brilliantly and sensitively written book that handles a very tough subject and I am looking forward to reading this author again.
Thank you for reading x
I have just finished reading 'Before I Die' written by Jenny Downham. It is a story with a difficult subject matter: death. And the worst thing about this death is that it is going to happen to a young girl, Tessa, who has not even really had much time to live before she is told by the doctor that her leukaemia is terminal and that she has a limited time left to live.
When I started reading this book I can't say that I was particularly in the mood for a book with a morbid storyline. I have had enough ups and downs lately to want to read something a little more cheery, but this book was another freebie that I have been meaning to read for a while so I thought I'd get on with it. In addition, on the front cover of the book, Heat magazine is quoted as saying that 'Before I Die' is 'a book that will make you happy to be alive' which suggested that there is actually an uplifting message in this book.
In the first chapter of this book we are introduced to Tessa, who is thinking about all the things she'd like to do before she dies. At this point she has already been diagnosed with her illness for some time. As she is only 16, one of the things she wants to do is have sex before she dies, and with the aid of her best friend Zoey, she gets to find out what it is like to have sex with a boy.
In fact, Tessa has a list of things she'd like to do before dying, and sex is only the beginning. I won't say much more, as if you want to know and this has made you curious enough, you'll just have to read the book to find out!
When I first read that Tessa had a list of things to do, my first thought was that this book was going to be about seeing Tessa get to do the things on her list, one by one. Whilst I am sure that would have been touching, I also thought it could have been a little predictable. Therefore I am very happy to say that this was not the case at all. Yes, Tessa does have a list, but getting everything ticked off is by no means the focus of the story. In fact the story has a much more realistic feel to it - with the ins and outs of Tessa's life as a terminal patient very much close to the heart of the story. This was great, because I think the alternative (seeing her do the things on the list) could have been somewhat idealistic and not dissimilar to a Hollywood movie plot.
Tessa's character was real, she got annoyed at her illness, she resented some of the healthier people around her and at other times...well she just felt okay. In the same way, the supporting characters in this book felt very real too. One of the other central characters was Adam, Tessa's next door neighbour. As the relationship between Adam and Tessa gradually developed, we got to see some of the difficulties both characters felt in this situation - Tessa's insecurities as well Adam's indecisiveness about how to go about things with Tessa.
Tessa's little brother, Cal was also a big part of this story. Cal is just a child and so the normal little brother-big sister arguments and fights occur, despite Tessa's illness. But the complexity of Cal's character is intriguing to observe, as although he is just a child, we slowly learn that he is very much aware of his sister's condition and it's interesting to see how he deals with it.
The story is told to us by Tessa herself. I felt that it was very powerful to have Tessa as the narrator: who better to tell us how it might feel to die at such a young age than the person who is dying themselves? We also get a chance to really understand Tessa as she goes from being able to do things for herself to losing her life.
'Before I Die' is sad, incredibly emotive (especially towards the end) and felt very real to read. I did cry when I read this book, it definitely impacted me, and yes I do feel that little bit happier to be alive having finished it.
You can buy 'Before I Die' by Jenny Downham from Amazon for £5.46 (new) or £0.01 (used) (plus p+p).
Thanks for reading.
This is one of the most moving books i have ever read. It tells the story of a girl who only has a few months left to live so she decides to make a list of all the things she wants to do before she dies. You will be taken on a rollercoaster ride of emotion as you see how Tessa views the world, knowing she'll leave it soon, and how she fears for the family she leaves behind. The book is very emotional and makes you think about what is truly important in life and how lucky you really are. I absolutely loved this book and was completely lost by in it from beginning to end. The way the ending was tackled was done so effectively, it was hard not to be drawn in by it. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys getting lost in a good book.
" It's really going to happen. They said it would, but this is quicker than anyone thought"
16 year old Tessa has just found out that the leukeamia she has been battling for 4 long years is terminal and she only has months to live. But there are things she still wants to experience before she dies, and so she compiles a list of ten things, beginning with sex. With the help of her wild friend Zoey, Tessa sets about her list. But Tessa is about to find out that what she thinks she wants and whats she needs are completely different, and what she needs is closer than she ever believed.
I'm just going to start this review by saying WOW! I knew this was going to be a powerful read, it's been on my wish list for a long time based on the myriad of raving reviews all over the net. Despite knowing this, I was still absolutely blown away by Jenny Downham's debut novel, and I know it will be one that will stay with me for a long time.
The book begins with 16-year-old Tessa facing up to the reality that her leukaemia is terminal. Rather than just take to her sick bed, Tessa plans a list of things she wants to experience before she dies. Beginning with sex, and including drugs, breaking the law, driving a car and the one she is almost too afraid to wish for, falling in love. While these may not seem particularly virtuous wishes, they are ones that are completely in keeping with a sixteen-year-old girl and I could completely understand them. What is so amazing about Jenny Downham's portrayal of Tessa is just how completely believable she is. Apart from having cancer, there is nothing special about Tessa, she is just an everyday girl, and this makes her absolutely stunning in her own right.
Downham doesn't take the easy way out, and spin us a fairy story. For example, within the first few pages Tessa enlists her friend Zoey to help her and this sees them heading out to a club to meet a guy and have sex. Her experience is disappointing though, and is cringe worthily realistic. Tessa is just like the thousands of girls who naively dream of feeling true love, the earth moving and everything else they are led to believe but find the reality is far different. It's all the more poignant as a reader, knowing why she wants this so much, but part of her journey is to realise that love isn't physical.
Amongst the thousands of positive reviews, I have read negative ones that criticise Tessa for being selfish, arrogant and un-likable. I really think this is unjustified and that the beauty and heartbreak about her is that she IS just a normal teenager. She doesn't become a martyr or saintly because she is dying, she is still a teenage girl. How many girls of this age have fought against boundaries, their parents and the world; screaming 'it's not fair?' Why, because her life is going to be cut cruelly short, should she be any different? To me, the book would be less credible if she was accepting and serene. I'm sadly no longer a teenager myself, but I do still remember how it feels. Had I been handed a card so cruel as Tessa's, I think I would have fought against it too. It's a brave but true voice Downham gives Tessa, so when she wishes illness on strangers on the bus rather than herself, I felt only sympathy for the character. Deep down wouldn't any of us think why not you instead of me? Tessa at times comes across as crazy and hysterical, but to me this also makes her situation seem more real, as I can't think of anything more likely to send someone to the brink of madness than living a death sentence. It's something I really can not imagine having to deal with, but Jenny Downham gives us an insight through Tessa.
The book is told in the first person from Tessa, and this really does take us deep inside her mind, and makes it a very emotional story. The other characters within the book aren't really explored, but the story isn't about them...it's about Tessa. Her father is portrayed well, and I could vividly imagine his denial as he sits for hours researching cancer treatments on the net and his pain and love as he realises how close he is to loosing her. I also liked Tessa's friendship with Zoey, despite really disliking her to begin with. As the story develops it becomes clear that she has problems of her own, that her hard faced exterior is just an act and she is fiercely loyal and desperately scared of loosing Tessa. Her blossoming relationship with Alex is written beautifully. It's tender, naïve, awkward, romantic and will bring a tear to any reader's eye. One relationship I did struggle to understand was with Tessa's mother, who doesn't live with the family. She seemed vague and uninvolved. If I had one tiny criticism of the book it would be that this relationship could have been explored more.
While this is without doubt one of the saddest books I have ever read, it is also one of the most beautiful. Time and time again I have seen it described as 'life affirming' and I can only add to that conclusion. I sobbed through the final fifty or so pages, so much that at times I could barely see the pages. It's rare that a book affects as much as Jenny Downham's Before I Die, and it is certainly one I will be thinking about for a long time. I couldn't put this book down and raced through the 336 pages within a day. Despite being about death, the unfairness of dying young and the cruelty of knowing it is going to come and having to wait for it, it is also heart warming and funny at times too and strangely uplifting. I would highly recommend this book to both teenagers of age 13+ and adults alike. You will have tears falling freely, I guarantee, but you will also be thankful for your life and your loved ones after reading this. A must read.
~ Other Information ~
Before I Die by Jenny Downham
My copy was published by Definitions 2008
I recently was lucky enough to escape to Tunisia for a lovely week of very much needed sunshine after our rather dismal attempt at a summer. Now if there's one thing I like to do on holiday more than sun bathing it's sun bathing while reading, on average I've been known to go through nearly a book a day on holiday. As I left it rather late to get myself organised for this holiday I had only a couple of days to stock up on all my holiday essentials, including books. While browsing on Amazon for books I came across one called "Before I Die" by Jenny Downham, it was recommended by people who had read the same books as me in the past so I quickly requested it from my local library as it certainly sounded like something I would enjoy.
Jenny Downham is not an author I was familiar with prior to reading this book, however a little investigation has since led me to discover she's a British born actress who has more recently turned her hand to writing.
The novel "Before I Die" is her only novel to date and was released in hardback in the UK in July 2007 and later in paperback in April 2008. The novel actually took her over two years to write from the point of conception through to completion. It has been nominated for various prizes including being shortlisted for the 2007 Guardian Award and the 2008 Lancashire Book of the Year Award. In 2008 it won the Branford Boase Award which is specifically for a first time author. It's also been translated into numerous languages.
The book follows the story of Tessa, a sixteen year old teenager who is very sadly dying from leukaemia. Right from the start, as the title would suggest, the reader is told her cancer is terminal and so the novel follows her through the last year of her life, as she struggles to come to terms with her impending death and all the happenings within her family, with her friends and with her love life too. The occurrences she comments on are typical of those a sixteen year old girl would talk about, but each one is seen from the perspective of a young girl that knows she is dying. We first meet Tessa during the summer months and follow her tale right through until the end which occurs in the spring of the following year.
My first thought when I picked up this novel following reading a little about it was that it was aimed at teenagers rather than the adult market. However don't let this stop you from reading it as I can honestly say, despite the rather negative and upsetting subject matter, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It really can be accessed by all ages, from teenagers right through to adults as it's sure to pull on the heart strings of all. I very rarely come across a book that I think both my family and friends would enjoy yet here is one book that I challenge you to dislike. It's such a heart wrenching tale that it would be almost impossible not to be affected in some way by the upsetting subject material regardless of your age or sex.
The second thing that put me off was that it would be a book full of self pity and upset, however this was not what I found at all. It was so refreshing and warming to read and to look at how Tessa looked on the bright side of life and all she wanted to accomplish before her death. The one thing that struck me right from the start was that Tessa didn't seem to dwell on her impending death, it was clear that she was aware of it and wasn't living in some sort of ignorance, yet she very rarely thought of it and she certainly didn't sit and mope about for days on end. I couldn't even begin to imagine how such an illness must make you feel but looking at it from Tessa's point of view really shook me up and made me think about how awful it must be.
The character of Tessa is a rather complex one, although she seems quite defiant and outspoken on the surface it soon becomes clear that there is far more to her than that alone. After reading the first couple of chapters I wasn't sure about her at all as she does do some rather selfish things that don't really take into account her family's feelings; however these are almost a cry for help in some senses and a last attempt to enjoy her life. As I read on further each chapter seemed to reveal a new impression or quality of her that really did make me empathise with her and feel sorrow for her situation. She showed all sorts of qualities that amazed me including bravery, compassion, being thoughtful towards others and determination too.
The book is written in such a way that the writing is really easy to read with chapters varying from under a page to about ten pages long. I managed to read this book in a day as despite it being 336 pages long the majority of them had a fair bit of blank space on them. The book covered quite a large period of time and although certain events were focused on in great detail such as her meetings with the boy next door Adam while at other times quite large portions of time were simply skipped over. This meant that the pace was kept up throughout the entire book making it feel like time was passing quite quickly indeed. All the important events seemed to be covered and I never felt anything was missing at all while reading the book.
The whole novel is written from the viewpoint of Tessa in the first person. This has its advantages as it means we get to know Tessa well but at times when I could tell her Father was frustrated and upset at his inability to change her circumstances I think it would have been nice to hear from him as well and perhaps other people too. Other characters that featured were her continuously disappearing Mum, her younger brother, her best friend who seemed rather self centred and selfish and the boy next door Adam. However the star of the novel is clearly Tessa who was strong throughout the novel, even at the very end she held onto her dignity. I can guarantee that by the middle of the novel you'll be wishing the ending could change.
The main focus of the novel was the list that Tessa continued to write on her bedroom wall throughout the book. This list consisted of things she wanted to accomplish before she died which seems like both a brave and practical thing to do as she wanted to make sure she left as few regrets as possible. The list consisted of some rather bold statements including commit a crime, fall in love and fix her family... quite typical things for most teenagers of the same age although some were a little different and even made me laugh. This not only gave a purpose to her life but also a focus for the author while writing the book and through the list we discover more about Tessa and her family. It even added several moments of comedy to the novel!
The end of the book was upsetting and it's something I read several times to fully appreciate it. The author tells you what happens at the end from the start of the book so don't feel that I'm spoiling the ending for any of you as it's even told you to you specifically in the title! I've never really thought about death or how it must feel to be slipping in and out of consciousness but Downham manages to capture the essence of it excellently. It's a really raw read at the end which is both moving and upsetting, as you read the book you'll find yourself almost willing Tessa to recover and indeed this is almost speared on by the fact she makes very few references to her death. The ending is brilliantly written and will leave you feeling quite hollow.
Thanks for reading.
I read this book following a rambled review from a friend. The friend said she wouldn't have normally read 'that kind of thing' had it not been for a looming train journey. Apparently she had almost finished it by the time she reached her destination and stepped onto the platform with teary, mascara stained face!
Well that was enough for me to give it a go so off I went.
First impression was of a simple easy to read style that moved at an acceptable pace. Short length chapters made for easy reading although that became irrelevant since it wasn't long before I could not put it down.
I finished this book within two days, I couldn't let it leave my side, I sat up all night finishing it and when I was done I sat and wept.
I really don't want to give you too much of the plot because really there isn't much of one. Simply, the story is of a teenage girl who looses her fight with leukaemia. Motivated by the knowledge of this she sets out to achieve a number of things before she dies, thus living every human emotion in a short span whilst acting as a typhoon to the emotions of her small damaged family. That's all I can tell you without going into too much detail. I am personally not a fan of giving a synopsis as a review I would rather let you know how it made me feel. Frankly I could not forget this book and still cant... one year later.
One true gift of this book is the girl's family who frankly don't know how to deal with her. We see them from her point of view as she resents them for wanting to protect her. Even so the reader can feel their pain and their fear at the impending prospects of her life.
In retrospect the style is simplistic and the plot is at times unrealistic. Having said that the principle character strongly imprints upon your conscience and I defy anyone to start this book and manage to walk away from it. I only wished I could have had more of it.
It truly is heart-breaking; I struggled to finish the last pages as I couldn't see them through the tears.
This book is a very touching and eye opening read. It shows how many people react to death and do not understand.
It shows how Tessa reacts to her serious illness of Leukemia and easily accepts the fact that soon enough she will not be present. It shows that she does not take into concern of how others are feeling and writes a list of what SHE wants to do and ignores the thoughts of everybody else around her.
Throughout this book; i laughed, cried and learnt that life is not always easy to some people.
How easily people can give up hope and trying once they realise that it may all be over soon enough. Forget the feelings of the others around them and focus on there very last steps.
Throughout she realises what she has left and how important they may be to her. She finds love at a time where she knows that she wont be able to start a life with love.
I would recommend this book to somebody of a young adult but somebody who can actually understand easily so not too young. A fantastic read with so many emotions packed into one.
Jenny Downham, was born in Britain in the year of 1964. Jenny Downham is a extremely successful author despite the fact she has only one published book. Before Jenny turned to writing, she was a full time actress. She used to work in a youth community theatre, who often visited terrifying places such as prisons and friendlier places, for example hospitals and youth clubs. Part of her job was to tell stories to people, and she adored this. Her acting career was fairly successful, however after having her second child, she found she just didn't have the time anymore, so she gave up her job and decided to start a profession as an author.
Jenny very cleverly employs her acting skills in her writing. One thing she likes to do, is to keep notebooks and journals of characters as if she was going to play them on stage, and them adapts this and writes it down in paper. Jenny is an extremely talented writer, and in her writing includes so much emotion and experiences she has dealt with.
Before I die
Before I die, is Downham's first, and only book. The book, took two and a half years to complete, from the ideas in her head to the actual finishing and publication of the book. Downham began writing in 2005, and after paying close attention to detail and writing every day, the book was finished in early 2007 and only months later it had been published, as well as being translated into another 10 different languages. Before I die has been extremely successful and has been nominated for many book awards including 2008 Carnegie Medal, 2008 Booktrust teenage prize and came to win the 2008 Branford Boase Award.
Before I die is the story of a teenage girl named Tessa. Tessa, was diagnosed with leukaemia 4 years ago and ever since, her personality and outlook on life has changed. Unlike some sick, dying people, she doesn't want to lay in bed all day waiting for her death, no, Tessa wants to live. So, Tessa decides to make a list of things to do before she dies which she writes on the wall behind her bed. On Tessa's list include falling in love, and getting her parents back together as well as many other things, some beautiful and some dangerous. But will Tessa survive long enough to do everything she has always wanted? Will her parents reunite for the sake of their daughter? Will Tessa fall in love? And how long does Tessa really have left to live?
Before reading this book, I was fairly sceptical. I'd heard good things about the book, but on the other hand I'd heard equally as bad reports. However, I tried to start the book with an open mind. In my opinion their were some definite good factors to the book. One thing I really liked was the short chapters. Each chapter was between one and twelve pages long. I wasn't too keen on the chapters that were one or two pages long but I think it made it a lot easier to read as I always tend to find I'm flicking through the pages to see when the chapter is going too end. Another thing I really enjoyed about the book, was that Downham was not afraid in writing the book, and although she risked offending some readers, she wrote it very cleverly so that I didn't feel uncomfortable or offended in the slightest. For example, Tessa often came out with some facts and opinions about her illness which could make a fellow sufferer (or not a sufferer) feeling very angry towards her, but I don't think this happened with me. Another good thing I found about the book was that the characters were described so well I could imagine them all. Zoey, Tessa's best friend brought a bit of relief to the story I feel. Even though she has serious problems of her own, (read to find out what they are...), she brought a bit of normality to the story and bounced of Tessa's personality extremely well. All of the other characters were built up superbly, included Tessa's brother, Cal and her father.
Something which I can't explain whether I liked or disliked, was the totally split personality of Tessa. Sometimes she could be kind, caring and responsible but at other times it was like a switch flipped inside of her, and she became angry, resentful, jealous and selfish. I found the times where she was happy very enjoyable but when she turned in to a "monster", I didn't like her one bit!
When I read books normally, I usually love it, or hate it. But this book was a totally different matter and although I loved some bits of it, other bits I really didn't. Tessa's personality often annoyed me especially when she was being selfish and didn't think of anybody else. I also found it very annoying when she used her illness to her advantage and thought she was superior to everybody else. Although I think that this was Downham's intention, I just found it rather uncomfortable.
Another down point to the book was the ending. I won't tell you what happens, but for around the last 25-30 pages, the writing is written extremely unusual. There are only extremely short paragraphs, some 5 lines, some only one line, and these are spaced out all over the page. I can see what she was trying to achieve; it could have been very effective, however I don't feel it worked; only adding confusion and extra length to the book. Also at the end I found it fairly difficult to understand as it was written very metaphorical and required a bit of thinking.
If I have to mention one more bad point, it is that I found some of the medical terms a bit of a nightmare to understand however I guess with a bit of research it wouldn't have been a problem!
In my opinion, the book was written exceptionally well, excluding the last 30 pages of so. Downham's passion for writing really shone through and made the book slightly easier to read. She used brilliant sentence structure- some very short sentences only a word long to provide tension which really worked. Downham's use of figurative language, for example metaphors was outstanding and I don't think one page went by where I couldn't find a simile or comparison.
I did find it fairly difficult to relate to the main character Tessa which put a bit of strain on reading, but Zoey was easy to relate to and her decisions reflected real life- a world away from Tessa.
Many of the reviews I have read on this book say that they found themselves in floods of tears through the book, mainly at the end, however I only found myself with a lump in my throat right at the very end and I didn't find it as upsetting or tear jerking as I was imagining.
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I would recommend this book if you like tragic stories. It is no chick-lit or rom-com and it does require a bit of thinking and reading between the lines. I don't think I would recommend it for anybody who is suffering from cancer or is close to somebody who is suffering from cancer or such like as it could be seen as offensive in some places and I can imagine a serious dislike and almost hatred towards Tessa.
Overall, I did half enjoy the book however I don't think I'd read it again out of choice.
I got my book from Waterstones book shop for the retail price of £6.99. This is quite a low price for a book I feel so I don't grudge buying it at all. The book is available in most shops, such as WHSmith and Ottikars. I have also seen it in Asda, however that was last summer time so I'm not sure if it will still be on sale!
This was recommended by a friend who said it was a difficult but moving read, I have to agree.
It isn't always easy to read, knowing the inevitability of the plot but is a fascinating book of teenage life as well as how someone may deal with living with a terminal illness. The things she chooses to do before she dies didn't really surprise me - they are things many teenagers experience or want to experience. Although this is written primarily for young adults, I would only recommend it for those mature enough to handle the sensitive subject matter. I teach in a secondary school and some found it a bit disturbing in places.
It is well-written and quick to read. It leaves you wondering what you would do and I think the overall message of the book is to make the most of your life and do all the things you want to.
Just beware! It is a sad book, I read it into the night as I couldn't put it down and ended up in floods of tears and waking up my boyfriend as I needed a hug - he wasn't best pleased!