Before I Die by Jenny Downham
Tessa Scott is a mere sixteen years old, and in those sixteen years of life the one thing she anticipates most is her death. Death has been looming over her head for the past four years – it’s heavy and inescapable. Desperate to live what little life she has left, Tessa enlists reckless best friend Zoey to help her carry out the list. It’s a bucket list of sorts stating the ten things she wants to do before she dies.
From wanting to feel a boy’s weight on top of her to becoming famous her list isn’t only a list of wishes – it’s a list that’s going to keep her alive. For every one item crossed off another is added, for every one item crossed off it means another day alive, but also another day closer to her death. Through this ever important list, Tessa finally feels what it’s like to live, to laugh, to be loved by the most important people in her fading life: her family dad and mum, and little brother Cal, and best friend Zoey. But above all, Tessa learns what it’s like to love.
When she meets next door neighbor Adam, she begins to realize that the one thing on her list, the one thing she thought would be impossible is suddenly a bright possibility in the midst of her dark life: falling in love. Because of Adam and his love Tessa’s list grows fat and full, but it’s not enough. Not even Adam’s love isn’t enough to keep Tessa alive. When her illness eats its way through her body, making its way from the inside out, it takes the combined strength of every person Tessa has touched to release her from cancer’s grip.
Before I Die, Jenny Downham’s first novel, is a painful, breath-takeningly beautiful story of love and life. Full of raw and unbridled emotion, readers will find themselves tearing up before the first chapter ends. Downham has crafted such a realistic tone that it’s hard to believe Before I Die is a work of fiction. Downham’s writing is exquisitely poetic, flowing from one moving moment to the next. As would normally be expected, Before I Die isn’t a ‘feel bad for me’ kind of story.* In fact, it’s quite the opposite: it celebrates life and urges everyone to live it to the fullest.
At it’s core, this book is an examination of the human connections we all long to make before our time in this world is up. It’s an examination of relationships. Downham excels at creating realistically honest characters who cling to one another for strength. Tessa is brutally honest portrait of life coming to its end. Zoey, Tessa’s best friend, is reckless on the surface but is just as terrified of living as Tessa is of dying. And there’s Adam, the human embodiment of strength, trust, and love – all the things Tessa needs to hang on all the more.
* Be warned, this is a very upsetting, and sad story at moments…you’ll probably cry.