Monday, 28 October 2013

Before I Die - Book Review


Before I Die – Book Review

(Re-titled in the UK as Now is Good)

Jenny Downham

YA Contemporary


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

Tessa’s feelings, her relationships with her father and brother, her estranged mother, her best friend, her new boyfriend, are all painfully crystallised in the precious weeks before Tessa’s time finally runs out.


This book was heartbreaking. The last few chapters I had to read through tear blurred eyes, even though from the beginning, I knew there would be no happy ending…

The story follows Tessa, a teenage girl diagnosed with Leukaemia, who already knows she is in the final few months of her life. Rather than sit at home, humoring her dad with his latest ‘google’ discovery of ways to prolong her life, she calls up her best friend and makes a list. The top ten things she is determined to do before she dies. Starting with sex.

Yet even as she tries her hand at drugs, shoplifting and even fame, Tessa never expects to accomplish her last wish. To fall in love. But then she meets Adam, and suddenly her world becomes a whole lot brighter. However each day, Tessa feels her body failing and knowing her final sun set is fast approaching… she wonders if she will have the courage to face her inevitable goodbye…

I did enjoy this book, although it took me almost halfway before I truly got into the story. I didn't particularly like Tessa’s character at first. I thought she seemed very detached from her feelings so I found it hard to sympathize with her. This may have been a ploy on the authors’ part; perhaps Tessa truly did dismiss her own feelings in order to better cope with the fate dealt to her. Yet as soon as she starts having tantrums and more emotional outbursts, that was when I feel you really connect with her and her situation.

Also watching how Tessa’s family and friends reacted to her illness was both heart-wrenching and maddening. Her father is over protective, her mother, unable-to-cope has an affair and appears only sporadically. Then there is Tessa’s little brother, who was loving but still a little ignorant towards her pending death. All these characters really impacted upon me the harsh reality that the people whose loved ones have terminal illnesses face each day. I would say some are just as brave as those who are dying.

Adam, particularly, was a really humane character. His dilemma was that he didn’t want to have his heartbroken by falling in love with a dying girl – not that his heart gave him much choice in the matter. However watching him struggle with their relationship - especially as Tessa’s time draws closer and she becomes frailer - was incredibly moving. Afraid to touch her, Adam stays by her side throughout it all. Yet he also knows he must live on when she is gone – and for him no one was a better teacher on how to ‘live’ life than Tessa.

So although sad, it really is an enlightening book. One that makes you consider the trials and sufferings of others. And teaches you to live each day with a purpose by reminding us how short life can be. A really moving read, I give Before I Die 3 ½ stars!

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  1. This book seems like it would gut me, but I'll have to read it. :) Wonderful review!

  2. I read this book shortly before giving birth to my son. Pregnancy hormones + heartbreaking story meant I was wailing uncontrollably at 2am. Phew.