Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Well, I haven’t posed a review in quite some time, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been reading. In fact, I’ve still been reading a lot. I actually had trouble deciding what book to write about now that I’m feeling motivated (at least temporarily). For those of you who enjoyed my reviews of bloody and violent books, you might be a bit disappointed in the next few reviews, as I have moved away from zombies and the like and more towards young adult books for the moment.

Before I Die is a young adult novel about a sixteen-year-old girl, Tessa, who has been ill with cancer for the past few years. She has been through countless treatments, and has finally reached the point where the doctors say they can do no more for her. Tessa seems resigned to her fate, but there are a few things she wants to do before she dies (hence the title. Deep, isn’t it?). Along the items on her list are sex, love, driving, and breaking the law. The list evolves throughout the book as she gets more and more ill. It’s interesting to see her priorities change.

As in most YA novels, there is a BFF, Zoey, but unlike in other novels, while Zoey supports Tessa, she has a lot on her own plate, as she finds herself pregnant by a boy who has no desire to remain in the relationship with her after he finds out about the pregnancy, in fact, he is prepared to pay for an abortion. So there is a solid subplot with Zoey that is just as emotionally charged as Tessa’s own struggles. But the two plots tie together well, with meeting the baby being one of the things that is added to Tessa’s list near the end.

Of course, since Tessa is only a kid, there is a family around her. Her family consists of Mom, who left the family years ago but comes back more often as Tessa gets sicker, Dad, who is always there and refuses to give up on a cure, and Cal, the little brother who does not quite comprehend what is happening to his sister. He just seems so lost throughout the book, he is almost more sympathetic than Tessa.

Finally, because what would a YA novel be without a little romance, we have Adam. Adam is a neighbor that Tessa had never really paid much attention to until she realized that her time was short. As is expected, Adam and Tessa fall in love, although, as Zoey brings up late in the book, would Tessa have been interested if she weren’t dying?

What really made this book stand out from the crowd of similar books I’ve read and have waiting on my iPad to be read is the fact that it is told in the first person from Tessa’s perspective, and it follows her death all the way to the very end. The reader is in her thoughts until she has no more thoughts. In many ways this book reminded me of If I Stay by Gayle Forman, but with a more raw and emotional feel to it.

If you tend to cry at the sad parts in movies and books, be sure to have a box of tissues ready for this one.

Take It

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