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Before I Die - Jenny Downham
Member Name: UK1981_female
Before I Die - Jenny Downham
Advantages: Not predictable, 'real' characters
Disadvantages: Difficult subject matter
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.
Summary: Glad I read it.