Before I Die is a young adult novel in which sixteen-year-old Tessa faces death without merely addressing the unfair and heartbreaking nature of teenage cancer. Tessa writes an ambitious list of things to do before she dies, including sex, drugs, and breaking the law. Though her single father, a kind and worried man, grows wary of this list and its implications in Tessa’s life, his daughter is determined to get what she wants with the help of her flaky and carefree friend Zoey. In the midst of crazy expectations for the list, as well as the unexpected complications that come with terminal leukemia, Tessa does not expect to find love. However, her neighbor Adam gives her this wish in the wonderful and topsy-turvy final months of her life. Tessa’s Before I Die list will make readers realize the beautiful experiences that await those who face even the darkest of times.
Jenny Downham’s witty and brutally honest character seizes life in a way that most of us never will. In death’s shadow, Tessa manages to show readers that she is still fully alive. The characterization of Tessa is as complicated as human beings can be. Though the other characters remain somewhat one-dimensional, Tessa is a wonderfully complex and (understandably) confused adolescent.
Before I Die is, without a doubt, a tear-jerker. The beautiful and tumultuous love story between Tessa and Adam, as well as Tessa’s bucket list – both of which must inevitably be cut short – will leave you grief-stricken. However, I read through this book in one day because it is such a compelling, believable, and touching story. Without fixating on the depressing theme of death, Jenny Downham shows us how to face the unfairness of it all with humor and incredible mutual experiences to remember until the day you die.
This is not simply a cancer story, and the novel contains concepts that are universal. I would recommend Before I Die to those that want a book to make you feel something and to young people that need a small idea of what it is to be completely alive.