Review: Before I Die - Jenny Downham

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.

This book took my breath away, that is really all that needs to be said.
The book focuses on sixteen year old Tessa as she lives out the last few months of her life with her selfish best friend Zoey and her family – her mother who is never there for her, her father, who is worried about the way she is coping and her younger brother, who feels pushed out because of his sisters condition. Tessa has cancer and has a list of things to do before she dies, things to make her ‘normal’. Stealing, having sex… falling in love. She meets Adam, an older boy looking after his mentally ill mother next door, and they fall in love…
This book is nothing but amazing, Downham makes good characters that you can relate to and feel for, even though sometimes I did feel like the extent of Tessa’s thoughts was ‘I’m dying, I’m dying. Cancer, Adam, Zoey, I hate my family.’ But it is a heart-rending read. Downham has obviously researched the condition and treatment and progression of the disease, and she delivers it in a poetic, soft way, whilst also putting across the brutality and horror of being a teenage girl with just a few months, something that takes skill to do. She also eased her way into the end of the story.
My last page of this novel must be absoloutely covered with tear-stains, because was practically bawling my eyes out by the time I finished – and it isn’t often I cry at books.
Downham also delivered the romance well, and the dysfunctional relationship between Tessa and her best friend Zoey. I found myself falling in love with Adam myself; so sweet and caring. This novel is written so poetically - which is great because this could have been an unbearably uncomfortable read, because of the topics covered, but the way the characters are established keep it a more comfortable read. Not light reading under any circumstance, but not as heavy as it could be.
While this book is almost flawless, some topics could mean it is not suitable for some younger readers. The whole romance thing seemed to me to be slightly rushed, it seemed as though Tessa was only interested in Adam because she wanted someone.
Overall rating: B

Stand alone/series: Stand alone
Released: March 6th 2008 (Paperback)
Publisher: Definitions
Pages: 336
Book obtained via: Bought

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