Sunday, October 2, 2011

Before I Die by Jenny Downham


Downham, Jenny. Before I Die. New York: David Fickling Books, 2007.

This story begins when the reader finds out Tessa, age 16, the main character who is telling the story is dying from leukemia. She lives with her father and brother and sees her mother once in a while. The cancer has spread throughout her body and she is finished being poked and taking treatments that make her sicker. She compiles a list of ten things she wants to do and experience before she dies. Number one on the list is sex. Others include trying drugs, breaking the law, traveling, getting her parents back together, not saying no for a day, becoming famous, and falling in love. She has a best friend Zoey who helps her accomplish some of the items on her list. She must battle her weakening body to complete the items on her list. Tessa's father is struggling with her dying and keeps trying to find a cure for her. Tessa stays in bed for days and then disappears without telling her father where she is going because she knows he will never ground her. She dies with everyone she loves around her. Her dad, mother, brother Cal and boyfriend Adam.

Critical Analysis:

This novel definitely conveys the theme that we need to live life to the fullest every day. It left me wondering how I could enjoy life more. Jenny Downham shows respect to everyone battling cancer no matter what age. The plot is believable and difficult to read towards the end. The character Tessa definitely shares with the reader her thoughts and the pain she is feeling throughout the book. She is so believable. The character of the father is incredible too. Her mother is estranged and her father spends every minute of his life taking care and trying to protect Tessa. The only part that was not believable to me is when he allows Adam to spend the last 2 months spending the night with her in her bedroom. I cannot picture a father giving approval to this. The reader realizes the severity of her illness when Tessa does not attend school and the description of the hospitals and physicians. Jenny Downham writes in a smooth style that carries you to the end. She then writes a few choppy sentences at a time on a page near the end of the book. The short sentences give the reader the feel of Tessa's short shallow breaths up until she breathes her last.

Strengths and Weaknesses:

The strength of this book is definitely the character Tessa. She is a strong-willed girl that has had to endure a painful cancer and treatments. She courageously faces death peacefully and she is in charge. She has accomplished her list of what she wants to do before she dies.


John Burnham Schwartz- "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."NYTBR, October 14, 2007

"Lucid language makes a painful journey bearable, beautiful and transcendent." Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 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." Publisher's Weekly, August 6, 2007

"Bound For Glory: This fall, five young authors deliver breakout books packed with razor-sharp writing." Entertainment Weekly, September 21, 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. Entertainment Weekly, September 28, 2007

Livvy Dodd- This book has to be the best book I have ever read. It completely broke my heart, and made me cry ALOT but it really opened up my eyes to how illness and death can happen at anytime and how fragile and precious life really is. July 23, 2011

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