Saturday, June 9, 2012
Before I Die
Before I Die by Jenny Downham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is a coming-of-age story about a 16 year old girl dying of leukemia. Tessa has been battling the disease for four years and this book starts toward the end of her treatments. It's come to the point where modern medicine can't do much more to help her. So, Tessa decides to take control of the things in her life that she still has some power over and makes a list of all the things she wants to do before she dies. Tessa ends up doing some crazy things she probably never would have done if she wasn't dying, but she purposely chooses things that make her feel alive.
She doesn't intend to put "fall in love" on her list, but it happens anyway. Her first and only real relationship is heart-breakingly beautiful. More so, because it is something she never thought she would get the chance to experience. I've read some reviews of this book that say Tessa isn't a like-able character or that she doesn't deserve the person she falls in love with. Personally, I couldn't disagree more. This book is raw and it is real. It portrays a girl, her family, her friends, and her boyfriend dealing with an impossible situation. NO ONE really knows how they would act if they were 16 and dying unless, heaven forbid, they are in just that same situation. People don't suddenly act all perfect because they have a terminal illness. What 16 year old do you know who is perfect? What person at all do you know who is perfect? People aren't perfect because life is hard and I'd imagine it's even harder when you are dying.
As depressing as this all sounds, this book will truly make you grateful to be alive and really make you want to LIVE your life. It makes you want to take advantage of all life has to offer, every single day you are lucky enough to open your eyes in the morning. But, as life-affirming as this book is, it is obviously also horrendously sad. It takes a LOT for a book to make me cry and this one did it for sure. Just try to read Tessa's letter to her Dad and you too will be a goner. It wasn't exactly fun to be bawling late into the night finishing this book, but I think it's a mark of an excellent writer to elicit that kind of an emotional response from me. Jenny Downham writes about a difficult subject with clarity and heart. She makes you think and more than that, she makes you feel. I really can't ask for anything more in a book.