Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Book Jacket

Everyone has to die.  We all know it.

With only a few months of life left, sixteen-year-old Tessa knows it better than most.

She's made a list, though--ten things she wants to do before she dies.  Number one is sex.  Starting tonight.

But getting what you want isn't easy.  And getting what you want doesn't always give you what you need.  And sometimes the most unexpected things become important.

Uplifting, life-affirming, joyous--this extraordinary novel celebrates what it is to be alive by confronting what it's really like to die.


Here's a small hint from me to you--if you want to avoid stifling sobs during your work lunch break, do not read Before I Die in front of others.  The ending is absolutely destroying.

I've read other books about teenagers learning to cope with their immiment deaths, but this one felt the most realistic.  It is for that reason that some parents might not like it, but come on.  If I were sixteen and staring death in the face, I could easily see myself wanting to try drugs, break the law, and have sex.  And I'm a "good girl." 

The thing that makes this book awesome is that these actions are not necessarily rewarded.  There are consequences to Tessa's good and bad choices.  It doesn't make her decisions right.  It just shows how desperate she is to live and experience as much of life as she can.  More than being tantalizing or erotic, those scenes pack an extra emotional wallop.  I don't think this book will encourage any teenagers to do anything rash.  It just inspires sympathy.

Tessa's slow decline is shown honestly and horribly.  She has to make frequent trips to the hospital, and (I don't think this is a spoiler because....look at the title) her last moments alive are painful in their authenticity.  Downham does not pull any punches or let the story fall into cliched territory.  It's magnificent, and I never want to read it again.

Four out of five last words.

Release Date:  September 2007
Reading Level:  Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  LINCOLN

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of Before I Die:

Feeling Fictional
Lynn's Book Blog

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