Before I Die – Jenny Downham
After four years of struggling with cancer, Tessa is 16 and about to die. She’s barely able to make it out of bed, not because of the illness but because she just doesn’t see a point. Most of her friends have long since disappeared leaving her with only family and one friend, Zoey, who is brave enough to stick around and also to call Tessa out on her selfish behavior. Eventually Tessa rouses herself when she creates a list of ten things she wants to do before she dies. Number one is sex but her other desires aren’t revealed until it’s time for her to accomplish them and the list changes as she does.
Unfortunately she finds the sex no good, though the drugs are a bit more fun. Tessa’s actions all have consequences (mostly to her health), but a lot of them are illegal and made to seem fun and worth it. I can see a more conservative parent objecting pretty strongly to some of the content, especially a really sweet and realistic but very graphic sex scene at the end. Her father still seems invested in raising her “right” but without a future, why shouldn’t she experience what she can?
This took me forever to read (a whole week!) though I do think it’s a very good book. It wasn’t as sad as I thought it would be and I didn’t get teary until the very end. But Tessa is pretty cool, even when she’s being awful. And everyone around her tries and fails in believable ways. It isn’t a sentimental or manipulative book, even when Tessa gets a boyfriend and they’re falling in love at the same time as she’s dying.
Besides appealing to teens, a lot of adults are really enjoying this.