Before I Die - by Jenny Downham
Before I Die

"I found myself sucked into Tessa's world, seeing her last few weeks."

When I picked up Before I Die, I suspected it would be another little YA read. Cute, has a moral, and then we all go home happy. So imagine my surprise when I found myself sucked into Tessa's world and enjoying myself, seeing the last few weeks of her life through the book.

Tessa has been diagnosed with cancer and after years of chemo and regressing and treatment upon treatment, the dotors don't know how much longer she has to live. It's offical. She's going to die . . . but not without living life first. Tessa comes up with a list, a list with everything she has ever wanted to do on it. Sex, for instance. Traveling. Getting her parents back together.  She wants to become famous. She wants to try drugs. She wants to fall in love. She wants to do things that are part of a life everybody wishes for but one that Tessa will not have the chance to experience.

This book will make you think. About life, about death, about those who mean so much to us and what it means for them to stay with you.  Most importantly, this book will make you feel. It certainly made me.

   - Arianne K.

"When I die, I'll return to dust, glitter, rain; I'll be reformed as an apple blossom."

All matter is comprised of particles. The more solid something is, the closer the particles are held together. People are solid, but inside is liquid.” Tessa said this, and it is one of my favorite lines in the book. I loved Tessa’s optimistic outlook on life most of the time. Sometimes she would just be in depressed moods where she was nothing but sad. That is why I think that Before I Die was a little too depressing sometimes. I felt as if she received a little too much attention from everybody, but then again I suppose I would act the same way as her family if my eldest daughter was dying. Downham had much descriptive writing that really made you feel like you were there with Tessa, feeling the sun warm against her face, and sitting in the cold hospital room looking up at an interesting painting.

Before I Die made me want to live my life to the fullest, and not take everything for granted because you never know what could happen tomorrow. If you are someone looking for a happy-go-lucky kind of book, this is not the book for you. It starts off with Tessa just waiting for time pass, and dwelling on her sickness. She has just months to live. Her best friend Zoey wishes she would go out more, so Tessa does. Tessa decides that instead of moping around, she wants to live life to the fullest. The list includes: sex, drugs, getting into mischief, fame, and others as well. The story has some unexpected twists.

This book is inspirational, yes, but also very sad. I loved the outlook on life Tessa had. Durham really does take you with Tessa throughout the whole book. Tessa discovers that life and death are more luminous and complex than she could have realized. Before I Die battles with some of the larger doubts and fears we all experience in facing our own mortality. Tessa's final days aren't pretty; we witness the grief and panic of her family as they hear the “death rattle” of fluid build up in her lungs. The author does not rely upon popular ideas of the afterlife, and the characters in this book do not spend a lot of time reflecting on them. Instead, Tessa is comforted by the idea of the larger life cycle. She thinks of herself as star dust:"...when I die, I'll return to dust, glitter, rain.... I want to be buried right here under this tree. Its roots will reach into the soft mess of my body and suck me dry. I'll be reformed as apple blossom. I'll drift down in the spring like confetti and cling to my family's shoes.... In the summer they'll eat me. Adam will climb over the fence to steal me, maddened by my scent, my roundness, the shine and health of me. He'll get his mum to cook me up in a crumble or a strudel and then he'll gorge on me."

This is a great teen novel, and it is a book that will stick with you. The struggles Tessa goes through relate to struggles that most teenagers go through, so for me, I understood and it was neat to feel that connection. This is definitely not for a kid to read, it has some promiscuous parts that would not be understood by anyone under teen-age level. It is a fast read, and I enjoyed it.

   - Sarah C.