Friday 10 December 2010

Before I Die Review

“I want to live before I die”

You have no idea HOW many times I picked up Before I Die by Jenny Downham in the book store before I bought it. Given the title, I wasn’t sure whether it would be too depressing but I still really wanted to read it. In the end I’m glad I bought it though as I’ve just finished reading it and I loved it. I found myself asking the question: how can a book about death be so full of life?

Before I Die is the debut novel from UK author Jenny Downham. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t tend to read a lot of UK books but I’m beginning to come around to this idea now, especially after reading this book. Before I Die tells the story of Tessa, a 16 year old girl who has terminal leukaemia and is therefore faced with her own mortality. She makes a sort of bucket list of things she wants to do before she dies and lets us know that the normal rules don’t apply to her. Her list consists of outrageous goals such as sex, drugs, and even breaking the law but she also adds falling in love. Tessa takes the reader on a journey that will stay with you, long after the end of the book.

Tessa is portrayed brilliantly and I really liked the fact that she was dying in such an unconventional way. It definitely made me ponder/question the idea of “a good death” and what this means. I loved the list Tessa made and the fact that she didn’t narrow her chances of achieving her goals by making them too specific. Tessa describes the world in such a way that makes you think she is drinking in her surroundings and soaking up her experiences so she can take them with her.

Tessa’s best friend Zoey is an interesting secondary character. She’s the opposite of Tessa and basically approaches life with a kind of reckless abandon but she truly is full of life. She doesn’t care about Tessa’s illness and doesn’t treat her any differently. I really liked that about her.

For the romantic in you, there’s also a love interest in the form of Adam who likes Tessa for WHO she is and not WHAT she is. Some of the scenes involving just the two of them are very touching and may make you reach for the Kleenex. Speaking of which, the tears started for me on page 284 and were pretty much continuous until the book finished. Whilst you could consider the ending to be inevitable, I found myself thinking that it’s more about the journey than the destination, which of course applies to real life.

I can see how some readers might find parts of Before I Die an uncomfortable read but isn’t that the point? Talking about death can be uncomfortable but it doesn’t mean you should avoid the topic. I really enjoyed the story and I would describe Before I Die as Poignant, emotional and a thought provoking read. I liked it so much that I've just sourced a rare hardback copy to go on my shelves and sent my paperback copy to a friend in the US.

Jenny Downham does not have an official website but you can visit the website for the book here. Jenny’s next book “You Against Me” has just been released (2nd December, 2010).


  1. Yeah, I thought this book was amazing as well! As I said in my own review about it, it isn't a book you will forget about! Lingers long after you've finished. If I see her next book in the shop (which I hope to) it is definitely one I am keen to read! Great Review :)

    Jess :)

  2. Thanks for posting about this one, I hadn't heard of it before but it sounds great and I've added it to my wishlist =)

  3. This book really touched me, it makes you stop and think, that is very important because not many have the ability to do that, thank you for the lovely review :)

  4. Thanks for your comments Jess, definitely pick up You Against Me as I hear it's very good.

    Vampires - It's definitely worth a read!

    Blueicegal - Glad you liked my review :)

  5. YAY I'm so glad that you gave this one a chance. I thought it was amazing :) Thanks for the great review.