Summary and book reviews of Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Before I Die

By Jenny Downham

Before I Die
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2007,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: May 2009,
    336 pages.

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About this Book

Book Summary

Tessa has just 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, and her new boyfriend, all are painfully crystallised in the precious weeks before Tessa’s time finally runs out.

Excerpt
Before I Die

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. He wouldn’t speak much, but he’d be breathing hard as he took off his leather jacket and unbuckled his jeans. He’d wear white pants and he’d be so gorgeous I’d almost faint. He’d take my clothes off too. He’d whisper, ‘Tessa, I love you. I really bloody love you. You’re beautiful’ – exactly those words – as he undressed me.

I sit up and switch on the bedside light. There’s a pen, but no paper, so on the wall behind me I write, I want to feel the weight of a boy on top of me. Then I lie back down and look out at the sky. It’s gone a funny colour – red and charcoal all at once, like the day is bleeding out.

I can smell sausages. Saturday night is always sausages. There’ll be mash and cabbage ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Book

Seventeen-year-old Tessa was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when she was 12. That was the same year that her mother left home. Now, Tessa is in the finally stages of her illness, and there are a list of things that she wants to do before she dies. This list confuses her father, who has quit his job to take care of her, but he ultimately understands that the list helps her focus on life rather than death. Zoey, Tessa's best friend, is by her side as she moves down the list. There are many symbolic relationships and events that help Tessa face her untimely death. Among them are Adam, a neighbor who is dealing with his own loss, but gives Tessa the romance that she is seeking; her mother's ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

During the first few chapters of Before I Die, adult readers will probably be asking themselves if this is really a book for them. After all, haven't we done our time with teenage angst already and do we really want to experience it from the viewpoint of a perceptive, witty, but not always likable dying teenager? Many of those who stick through the sometimes disjointed opening chapters (disjointed because the author is channeling a teenage voice) to reach the heart of the novel will answer with a resounding yes, and all but the most hardened of cynics will be reaching for the Kleenex by the final chapters.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
Entertainment Weekly

In luminous prose that rings completely true, Downham earns every tear she wrings from her readers. I trust there will be many of them—many readers, and of course, many tears. A-

New York Times - John Burnham Schwartz

This may sound too depressing for words, but it is only one indication of the inspired originality of Before I Die that the reader can finish its last pages feeling thrillingly alive ... I don't care how old you are. This book will not leave you.

Readingrants.com

My adolescent friends, I never thought I would find the book that could knock my much beloved and oft-read copy of Norma Klein’s sob-inducing Sunshine out of the top tearjerker spot in my heart. But Before I Die has done it. Like Sunshine, it’s not sappy, corny, or saccharine. It’s just a very clear-eyed, realistic portrayal of what it means to die young, and how it feels to die from this particular disease. Downham pulls no punches, she takes you with Tessa right to the very end, an ending that you won’t forget, now or ever. To heck with the box of tissue, you’re gonna need stock in Kleenex to finish this one. But believe me, I’m not crying when I say this is one of the best books of 2007!

Bookdivas.com

Before I Die is a brilliantly-crafted novel, heartbreaking yet astonishingly life-affirming. It will take you to the very edge.

ShelfAwareness - Jennifer M. Brown

Readers know the novel's ending from the start. What makes this journey worth taking is watching Tessa check off the items on her list; she lives each moment to the fullest, and inspires everyone around her--including readers--to do the same.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The eloquent dying teen can seem a staple of the YA novel, but this British debut completely breaks the mold. Downham holds nothing back in her wrenching and exceptionally vibrant story.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Lucid language makes a painful journey bearable, beautiful and transcendent.

The Guardian (UK)

The intolerability of what's to come spotlights a subtle truth, which Downham has captured well. That in life, despite all the warnings, no one ever quite believes the ending - destined to drive hundreds of thousands of readers to tears and to swift injunctions to all their friends to read it.

The Sunday Times (UK)

Dealing frankly with teenage life, Before I Die will be the year’s most talked-about novel.

Reader Reviews
Catherine Codie-Leigh

Before I Die
I am 18 and I thought I would have a different reading aspect on things, I then saw this book and thought i would have a go at reading it. I lost somebody close to me so when I started reading this book it made me cry for a good reason, am so glad I ...   Read More

Hanna

Woow
It's was the best book ever. I was only 12 years but it doesn't matter. I appreciated a lot of the book with this style. With this book I realized that life was precious and we have only one. So, when you are healthy, this was the most important to ...   Read More

Chelbi

Reality
Darlynne I respect your viewpoint BUT it's naive and sheltered (not writing that to offend). Today's teens are and have been from a young age surrounded by sexual innuendos and messages where ever they turn whether the parent approves or not. Being a...   Read More

Stephanie

This book is wonderful
I have to disagree with Darlynne about it being pushed towards the younger ages, I mean the story is after all written from the perspective of a sixteen year old anyway, and I doubt we will be seeing seven year olds trying to get into the story. All...   Read More

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About the Author
First time author Jenny Downham caused quite a stir with Before I Die, a novel targeted at teens with crossover appeal for adults in general. Publisher David Fickling (part of Random House), who also publish The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, are so enthusiastic about the book that they rushed the 2007 hardcover into press in a fraction of the time normally taken, and foreign rights have been sold in at least 11 languages .

According to a June 2007 article in the London Times, written a month before Before I Die published in the UK, nobody is more surprised by the buzz surrounding the book than Downham herself, a single...

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