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Before I Die Paperback – Bargain Price, May 26, 2009
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"This may sound too depressing for words, but it is only one indication of the inspired originality of Before I Die, by Jenny Downham, 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."
—John Burnham Schwartz
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2007
"Lucid language makes a painful journey bearable, beautiful and transcendent."
Starred Review, Publisher's Weekly, August 6, 2007
"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."
Review, Entertainment Weekly, September 21, 2007
"Bound For Glory: This fall, five young authors deliver breakout books packed with razor-sharp writing."
Review, Entertainment Weekly, September 28, 2007
"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-"
From the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Such a simple premise, such a complicated book. Making a resolution to say "yes" to everything is hard work, Tess finds-- it brings priorities like friends and family into conflict. It does require some suspension of disbelief to believe that the boy who will love her just so happens to be the boy she doesn't know who lives next door, but, given his character, I'll take the suspension and run with it. This is truly a "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose" book, except Tess does realize how valuable the people around her are-- they are the last voices she hears as she drifts off into the inevitable end.
Oddly, the male characters are better drawn than the female supporting characters. One wouldn't expect such a sharp dichotomy, but it seems as if the author poured all of her narrative energies into Tess and didn't have enough for the other women: Tess' mom makes rare appearances, and the character of her best friend, Zoey, is rather flat. Zoey in particular should be drawn more strongly because she represents vitality and life but also consequences; she is a person living life chaotically, without a list, so to speak.
The novel is heartbreaking (even to my rather gruff heart), but it doesn't bog you in depression; rather, it makes you want to find something to do and just do it. The spareness of Tess' life, made so by her illness, allows her to enrich her remaining time with meaning and fulfillment. In her final moments, we know that her plan worked.
This is a quick book to read - it took me a day. It's fairly predictable and aside from Tessa, the characters are pretty sketchy. However its simplicity also makes it feels more genuine, as if it really was penned by a 16 year old. It makes you think about and appreciate your own friends, your family - your very life.
Despite the subject matter it doesn't endorse casual sex (indeed, the potential consequences are very clear!) nor drug use. I wouldn't hesitate to give it to a teenager to read, although I would probably hand over a large box of tissues along with it. It's the kind of book that touches your heart.
Like most teenagers, Tessa is at odds with her parents and angsty about how life's shortchanged her. At first her ranting and left-field demands seem too adolescent. Isn't the looming presence of death supposed to mature her beyond her years?
But that's precisely the kind of "dying-young" trope that Downham admirably resists throughout the novel. Tessa burns up a maddening number of days moping when we think she should be fulfilling her dreams. She finally pushes herself to face facts: "I have two choices--stay wrapped in blankets and get on with dying, or get the list back together and get on with living."
Downham escapes the common shortcoming of many young adult novels in which the only character that ever really matters to us is the speaker. In this novel, Tessa's relationships are so dynamic that we ache with her at the thought of losing them. Throughout the book, their interactions thrum with tension and tenderness.
There's Cal, the tactless younger brother who helpfully explains the process of decomposition. And Zoe, the careless best friend who has her own troubles to wake her up to life. There's Dad in denial, determined to save Tessa through organic foods and fierce hugs. Mom, who cut out about the time of Tessa's diagnosis and who remains slightly outside of the helping circle (without becoming a monster). And there's Adam, the blessing of love and vulnerability that lands next door to Tessa at the crucial time.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is the first book by Jenny Downham that I have read. I was looking for a real tear jerker when I picked up this book. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Natasha du Plessis
I cried, laughed, smiled, and told everyone that I loved. That I loved them. This book is life changing and highly recommended.Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
It's a sad story but I expected it. She decided since the memo isn't working that she would rather die.Published 5 months ago by Kindle Customer
Before I Die is a hard book to read, especially in the first half. Tessa, bitter, angry, and deeply depressed because she is dying of cancer, decides to complete a list of... Read morePublished 7 months ago by Lupine Smile
So well written. So much passion for life. So much love. So much pain. So many tears. This is such a good book!Published 7 months ago by Mark Hamman
While accompanying someone on the journey towards death is always interesting, this story leaves the reader feeling utterly depressed rather than comforted or hopeful. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Vicky