Friday, April 22, 2011

Review: Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Before I Die by Jenny Downham
Young Adult Fiction
Publisher: David Fickling Books
ISBN: 9780385613460 (Hardback)

Tessa has just a few months to live. Fighting back against hospital visits, tests, drugs with excruciating side-effects, she 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. 

I wish I had a boyfriend. I wish he lived in the wardrobe on a coat hanger. Whenever I wanted, I could get him out and he’d look at me the way boys do in films, as if I’m beautiful.

Jenny Downham starts the story with these lines and I was immediately hooked.

Tessa was 16 and she was dying of leukaemia. So she made a list of things she wanted to do before she dies and she intends on completing each one of them. However, the central theme of this book wasn’t about her heroic adventure while completing the list while making new friends, no, although the list was certainly part of the story.

It’s about Tessa, trying. Trying to live through her days the best way she knows how. In the book, she drove her best friend –and me– crazy with all the random things she like to say which seems nonsense on the surface and a bit annoying but then I realized that it was actually her way of trying to hold on to these moments in her life even though they are quickly slipping through her grip. When I realized that, it broke my heart. It really did.

One thing that captured my attention when I read this book was not the plot, but the author’s writing. I love Jenny Downham’s writing. Tessa's voice was strange and beautiful. And it made me wanted to read more, more and more.

I hide under my hat again, just for a bit, because I’m going to miss breathing. And talking. And windows. I’m going to miss cake. And fish. I like fish. I like their little mouths going, open, shut, open.

Another thing that I love about this book is the characters. I love her dad and I adore her little brother, Cal, who like to show her magic tricks and wanted to join the Magic Circle one day. Tessa’s dad on the other hand constantly worried about her and was scared out of his mind but he still gave her space to breathe, even lending her his support when she wanted to be famous – next on her list. He was unsure and sad and strong. I love him.

Dad, you played rounders with me, even though you hated it and wished I’d take up cricket. You learned how to keep a stamp collection because I wanted to know. For hours you sat in hospitals and never, not once, complained. You brushed my hair like a mother should. You gave up work for me, friends for me, four years of your life for me. You never moaned. Hardly ever. You let me have Adam.

You let me have my list. I was outrageous. Wanting, wanting so much. And you never said, ‘That’s enough. Stop now.’

There was one character that bothered me though - Tessa’s best friend, Zoey. I wish she was more involved in the second half of the story especially at the end.

But then, I was pretty distracted with the boy-next-door, Adam. Oh my goodness. He didn’t possess the drool-worthiness that almost always exist in the recent ya literature but he was definitely the sweetest bloke ever!

‘I love you,’ he whispers angrily into my neck. ‘It hurts more than anything ever has, but I do. So don’t you dare tell me I don’t. Don’t you ever say it again!’

Their love was sweet and quiet pain; warm and creeping cold that left tears in my eyes. I keep asking in my mind, ‘Why, why can’t they be together? Why can’t Tessa live?’ She wants to go to university, marries Adam and visit her father with her kids someday. "Why can't she have all that?" Their romance was sweet but I know the painful reality was not far behind.

The ending made me cry. It was really hard to read. Silent tears and heaving chest. I felt stabs of pain in my heart and a sense of helplessness as I sat there with Tessa. In Tessa. Waiting. Falling. Fading.

Overall, Before I Die by Jenny Downham was worth it. Grab a copy if you have a chance and read. This is a good book. It might worth your while too.


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