Recent Reads: Before I Die


I didn’t hear about Before I Die by Jenny Downham until I saw the trailer for the movie adaptation (they’re calling it Now is Good).
The book was published in 2007, so I do realize that I’m very far behind. But I liked the preview of the movie, and I was glad to see it was a book. If I know there’s a book adaptation of a movie that strikes my fancy, I’ll try and read first.

Obviously, I knew going into this book that I’d be going into a dark, sad place.
Tessa is a 16 year old girl who is dying of leukemia. It’s not a matter of fighting or finding a fix anymore…nothing is working.
She is facing death, but instead of simply wasting away in her bedroom, she decides to tackle a list of things she longs to do before she dies. They include things that a normal teen is curious about…sex, drugs, etc. It’s very #YOLO.

The list is an important part of the story, but Tessa is our narrator, and we get to experience her illness and the way she deals with it, her strong moments and her weak moments. At times, she is accepting of her death. Other times, she is in denial.
And then, of course, she is afraid.
The next chapter might be weeks after the last, either because Tessa couldn’t get out of bed or was hospitalized.
It’s not a journal account, but being that she is telling us the story, we only get to experience what she does.

The material is undoubtedly heavy, but the story rings true all the same.
We all die. I’m not trying to say that to bring any readers down.
But the point is celebrating each moment in life. The good, the bad, the crazy, and the most simple.
It’s about appreciating what we have and having the courage to strive for the things we don’t have.

I love that Tessa tells the story. I wasn’t sure how the end would be handled, how the story would close.
But it was beautiful. I didn’t cry when I read it, but when I tried to read it out loud to my sister (she was curious), I couldn’t do it without choking up and eventually just handed it over to her. Jenny Downham did an amazing job.

This was a lovely, beautiful, heart breaking book, and it was super-easy to read. I finished it in less than a week, which is fast for me.
I would recommend it if only to look into the world of illness, of impending death, and the true appreciation of life.

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