Before I Die by Jenny Downham

2007
09.02

before i dieSixteen-year-old Tessa Scott has incurable leukemia. She is going to die, probably before next spring. “It’s really going to happen…I really won’t ever go back to school…I’ll never go to college or have a job…I won’t travel, never earn money, never drive, never fall in love or leave home or get my own house. It’s really, really true.” But Tessa isn’t about to take the matter of death lying down. Instead, she composes a list of all the things she wants to do before the cancer takes her. Have sex. Spend a day saying nothing but “yes” to every question she’s asked. Shoplift. Try drugs (besides the kind she takes for her cancer treatment). Drive a car. And maybe, if she’s lucky, fall in love. Meanwhile, her surrounding family and friends each struggle with their own feelings about Tessa’s impending death: her desperate father, who spends his days searching the Internet for alternative therapies; her distant mother, who copes by pretending everything is alright; her little brother Cal who fusses over her one moment and taunts her the next; her best friend Zoey, who manages to be both selfish and supportive; and finally, her next-door-neighbor Adam, who, in the last months of Tessa’s life, unexpectedly becomes the love of her life. But no matter how much they all care about her, Tessa will have to finish the list–and her life– on her own. 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 (also on this list) 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! (4 weepies)

25 Responses to “Before I Die by Jenny Downham”

  1. ashley says:

    this book sounds really sad i really want to read it i started to cry when u first started to read the summary!!!

  2. ashley says:

    this book sounds really sad i started to tear up when i first read it i really wanna read this book i will cry:(!!

  3. Helen says:

    Read “Deadline” by Chris Crutcher .. outstanding book, too.

  4. Jen Hubert says:

    I have to say, Helen, Deadline was not my favorite, although a good one to recommend along with this title. I think you either connect with that book emotionally and just unabashedly love it, or you end up picking apart all the improbably parts (I’m a picker). My favorite Crutcher is still Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, although of his newer works, I’m a fan of Whale Talk, which I included in my Reading Rants book.

  5. Beth says:

    I just finished reading this — it took big pieces out of my last 3 days because I didn’t want to put it down. Kleenex yes, but there’s so much to feel good about in this book. And it has absolutely the best scenes for “first sex” and “first time making love” that I’ve ever ever read.

  6. Diane says:

    Downham’s Before I Die is an honest portrayal of a teenager with a terminal illness. She’s scared, irrational and wanting to experience life fast-the good, the bad and the ugly. Is she self-centered, absolutely. Does she whine? Yes. Who wouldn’t when their life is going to end in a matter of months. But she fines love in an unexpected place and has one real friend. This book has award winner written all over it!

  7. mitzi says:

    i really want to read this book.

    this is my first time hearing about the book, but im glad that i did know about ie. im definetly gonna be going to library tomorow morning!!

    thanks jen!!

  8. mitzi says:

    this book was so touching. i really liked it. i read it in only half a day. i fell in love with it. it made me cry in the end (& other parts before that). i also liked how the book could talk about sex and not make it seem “icky”. i definetly recommed it!!

  9. Jen Hubert says:

    It’s a heartbreaker, alright. But so beautifully written! I’m glad you enjoyed it, Mitzi.

  10. Kate says:

    I read this about half a year ago, and didn’t mind it. I thought it wasn’t that sad though. It wasn’t the greatest book ( I think it needed a stronger ending) but not bad for a read.

  11. Jen Hubert says:

    O, the ending is what really did it for me, Kate. I found it both sad and hopeful.

  12. Maggie L says:

    I read this book on yours and my librarian’s recommendation.

    It was beautiful, but definately deserving of four weepies. Unfortunately, I’ve been having extremely vivid dreams in which either I or one of my close friends become the main character of this book, which… is not pleasant, I’ll have you know.

    Overall, great recommendation and definitely worth anyone’s time.

  13. Amira says:

    I loved this book, and I agree, the ending really had me =[. Although, I also agree the book was not all sad and had some really nice, humourous parts. Definitely a book worth reading.

  14. Molly says:

    This is truly a great book. I just finished this book and I cried through the ending!

  15. Megan says:

    It’s so funny that I’m reading the summary for this book while it sits in front of me as I’m re-reading it for my schools book club.

    I read it on your suggestion of course Jen and loved it…but not at first. I love this about it now, but at times it could be very sharp and very unexpected. Like on the third page when Cal snickers, “I’m gonna miss you”. He says this to his dying sister while laughing at her. I realize that this is what makes this book so real. In the ‘real’ world something like this might seem innapropriate but here as in normal relationships it’s perfectly normal.

    Rarely do you find a book with truly flawed characters. People who have problems and unabashedly talk about them and grit thier teeth to get through them. Sure Tessa’s dying and sure that’s really sad and all but….but is it wrong to kind of want to be Tessa? To have a real reason – a deadline really – to do what you’ve always wanted? To fill up all the dark little spaces in your life with color and music and love?

    Sorry this got so long, it’s just one of those books that makes you think really hard. Not sure why but it reminds me of ‘A Countess Under the Stairs’ by Eva Ibottson. Not that they’re anything alike or Countess is nearly as sad, it just has one page I could over and over and never stop being moved…Sometimes I’ll just read a few passages from each book when I need a good outlet to vent. Countess is also a really good book, I reccommend it.

  16. Cara Hope says:

    You’ll cry.
    I hate crying.
    I hate anything sad.
    I loved this book!

  17. Kelly says:

    This book is amazing. It is a must read. Must read it before you die.

  18. Megan says:

    As the other Megan said, this book is completely rooted in the “real-world” and very close to home. My older sister has AML, another type of leukemia, so obviously I was bound to cry—outside of that, however, the way Tess was so perfectly crafted as a character…she might as well have been my closest friend. I really got to know these people, and so the pain at the end was heartbreaking.

  19. Shannon says:

    I’m sorry to all the people who did enjoy this book, but I thought it was awful. Horribly immoral, and I didn’t like the writing style or sense of humor (rather – lack of sense of humor). I didn’t like it at all.

  20. Lanna says:

    I bawled at the end of the book. I kept reading the last six or seven pages over and over and It was so sad. But it was totally worth my time. I loved it. :)

  21. Lauren says:

    I just finished this book about two minutes ago. After seeing it on here I went looking for it at my school library. It is probably the best book I have ever read. I would definitely recommend it to all of my friends.

    Thankyou so much for this.

    xo.
    Lauren

  22. Jen Hubert says:

    Lauren, I’m so glad you liked it! This is one that stays close to your heart–truly unforgettable. I’m also glad your school library had it available for you to read it asap!

  23. zandile says:

    omg thats the best book like ever i thnk its so cute how adam stays with her till the very end and i so think the should make it into a fil i dive it ***** and tessa is a really strong person
    :)

  24. Leslie says:

    Gosh… I don’t see how that book was liked. I read it, and while I was reading it… guess what? I FELL ASLEEP! I was morbid. Just completely boring. If you want a good book check out “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher. Its such a better book than this one, and better written. If you liked this one, you’ll like mine.

  25. Frances says:

    I just wanted to cry and this book had 4 weepies so it was suitable to try out.
    By the end of the book I was practically crying my eyes out.
    I generally call these books, cancer books and I don’t know if it’s right to compare this to The Fault in Our Stars or not but this book sounded more real. I connected more with the characters. In TFiOS, Hazel and Augustus’s love was too perfect, even from the beginning.
    Thanks for the review. I’ll definitely come back here and look for a “4 weepies” whenever I need to cry.

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