Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Review: Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Before I Die by Jenny Downham
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Goodreads description:

Tessa has just 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, and her new boyfriend, all are painfully crystallised in the precious weeks before Tessa’s time finally runs out.

First sentence: I wish I had a boyfriend.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Before I Die is heartbreaking, as anyone can see from the description. I cried loads while reading this one. I felt all the characters' pain, but despite the hoplessness of the situation, I kept hoping for some kind of miracle until the very last page. I loved how subtly Jenny Downham conveyed emotion, not melodramatically (can you say that?) at all. The prose is beautiful, conveying raw emotion perfectly. The narration is great as well - heartbraking at times, humorous at others, despite the hopeless situation. The emotions Before I Die made me feel are amazing - of course I felt sad, but at the same time I felt incredibly happy to be alive. It really made me appreciate everything I have.

What I liked best about this novel were the characters. Tessa is a great, easy to relate to character. Of course I can't judge how realistic any of this is, as I've never been in a situation like hers, but all of her feelings are believable. Her mood swings (I don't think you can really call it that, but I mean how she's sometimes angry and bitter, sometimes sad, and sometimes accepts her situation) are understable, and I imagine I'd feel like that, too, if I were in her shoes. The things on her list of what she wants to do before she dies are things everyone (or at least every girl) can understand - no one wants to die before having been in love.

The secondary characters are great as well. They add so much depth to the story  and make the emotions that much stronger for the reader. All of them are fully-developed, complex characters, and their dynamic relationships made this story believable. Tessa's situtation with her family is great and I enjoyed reading about their effect on Tessa. The dad's emotions were easy to understand, even when I agreed with Tessa. I loved Adam - it's just so cute how he takes care of Tessa, and I love how the situation in his family added depth to his character. At first, I didn't like Zoey, but I guess you weren't supposed to. Later on, when I understood her better and found out more about...I don't want to spoil it for anyone, so I'll just say her situation, I felt for her, too. Cal is a great character too. I loved his dynamic relationship with Tessa, and his last words to Tessa really made me bawl, more than anything else.

I don't have much more to say about this book - it's just an amazing read. Great writing and fully-developed characters, and it makes you feel lots of emotions. The description on the back of the book explains it better than I could - "Uplifting, life-affirming, joyous - this extraordinary  novel celebrates what it is like to be alive by confronting what it's really like to die." I definitely recommend Before I Die!


  1. I've almost picked this up at least three or four times at the library, and always put it down at the last minute. There have been simply too many terminal illness tearjerkers lately. But I think your review convinced me to give it a shot!

  2. I absolutely love books that make me feel some overwhelming emotion, and it's startling because it takes a lot for someone to cry.

    You know what. I love your reviews. I feel guilty for not commenting on them often, and I can tell that you really love books, just as everyone else who blogs about books. (:


    GFC Follower: Thao Huynh (USA)


  3. I've never heard of this book before and I'm so glad that I've read your review and now know about it. I've been reading quite a few books about death lately, but none have characters who know that they're dying and I would love to read this book simply to see how the character prepares herself by experiencing life before death.


Please leave a comment - I love to hear what you think!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...