Before I Die

It’s always interesting subject matter – how people deal with the imminent and inevitable coming of death. And more interestingly, this novel appears to be aimed at younger readers. Tessa is a 16-year-old girl with cancer that has advanced to such a degree that she is no longer continuing treatment. Thus, she is left at home with her father and brother (her mother left the family many years ago, and still plays a peripheral role in Tessa’s life).

Tessa goes through many of the expected stages of grief, and it is actually refreshing that she handles it badly. This is no glib story of angelic patience and acceptance – Tessa experiences a wide variety of emotions and is a pain in the ass to those around her a lot of the time. Much more realistic, really!

As a way of coping, Tessa makes a list of all the things she would like to do before she dies. She starts with sex – awkward, but uncomplicated (for her at least, not so much for her adventurous friend Zoey who orchestrates many of these experiences). These early parts of the list are particularly adolescent; breaking the law and so on. But Tessa allows her list to be shaped by those around her. What is particularly beautiful, is the way she is still able to be touched by the people she meets in the last weeks of her life.

The last few chapters had me in tears, real page turners. If the idea interests you, give it a read. I think Jenny Downham does it better than others.


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