Book Review: Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Before I Die is the first YA novel by Jenny Downham. It was first published in 2007 but has had multiple make-overs from then until 2010. The book was published by David Flickering Books (Random House) and the newest version is 327 pages long.

Sixteen year old Tessa is dying. She knows she doesn’t have that long left and there is no cure. Instead of sitting around feeling sorry for herself, Tessa makes a list of things she wants to do before she dies.

No. 1 – Sex

Tessa’s Dad is extremely protective of her, especially since she got ill so Tessa has to go behind his back to complete her list. Best friend Zoey is on hand to help but doesn’t always give her what she needs. Taking a chance on her own, Tessa begins to go off the rails, until she meets Adam. The guy from next door is unlike anyone that Zoey has tried to set her up with. He’s different. He cares. He’s everything that should be bad for Tessa but she can’t help herself. She might be dying but she’s also falling in love.

What I thought
I had heard a lot of great things about this book but knowing the subject matter, I really had to be in the mood to read it. One night when I couldn’t sleep, I picked this up…and I didn’t put it down.

How could you not feel for Tessa? I thought she handled her illness extremely well considering everything that was going on around her. I think if that were me, I would also want to achieve certain things before I died, especially only being 16 years old. The things on her list were, for the most part, very reasonable and I think quite common for anyone her age. Who would want to die a virgin? Who doesn’t want to do some crazy things in her lifetime? Her list got me thinking about the things I would have put on my own at 16 and I think that a lot of them would have been the same. I wouldn’t have cared whether they were plausible or not.

I loved Adam and could tell that he was going to be someone amazing to Tessa. Their relationship is far from happy all the time and the pace of how things work out was realistic. This is definitely not one of those books where a couple fall in love stupidly fast and everything works out well. Their relationship is hard and it takes a lot of work, both Tessa and Adam have their own problems and dreams to work though. Adam was slightly mysterious to start with but I was glad to see that his secrets were slowly revealed. I think Adam was the best thing that could have happened to Tessa as it changed the whole way that she looked at the rest of her life. At least she got to be happy, even if it was for a short time.

I really didn’t like Zoey for the most part of the book. She was horrible and extremely selfish when it came to helping Tessa with the things that she wanted to do. She was pushy and arrogant and I didn’t warm to her at all, not even at the end of the book. I was glad when Adam appeared in Tessa’s life and showed her what a real friend was like. I think that Tessa would have been much better off without Zoey being around her so much at such a hard time in everyone’s lives.

Watching how Tessa’s family cope with the situation was very interesting. The way her Dad reacts to certain things changes all of the time, like he is coping better at certain times, rather than others. Putting all of that aside, he really is Tessa’s rock, always being there for her and thinking of what is best, even if she doesn’t believe that herself. Little brother, Cal was one of the characters that I felt the most sorry for though. He didn’t really know what was going on, other than the fact that his sister was ill and he didn’t know what to do about it. Cal got angry a lot of the time because his sister was getting a lot of attention and he was feeling left out. It was a shame that the family didn’t have more support so that Cal didn’t have to feel like this though.

Before I Die has got to be the saddest book I have ever read. I love Nicholas Sparks’ A Walk to Remember and this book made me think of that a lot. There are a lot of similarities but they are completely different stories. I can’t remember the last time I cried so hard at a contemporary novel. It was so much that I had to put the book down for a minute and sort my eyes out so I could actually see and finish it. Before I Die is a must read and one that I wish I had read a lot sooner.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Before I Die by Jenny Downham

  1. I'm glad you read and enjoyed this one. t's such an emotional book – I read it when I was pregnant with my Littlest and was very hormonal anyway, but I stayed up FAR into the night to finish it and absolutely wept my heart out.


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