November 02, 2008

Darn It, Jenny Downham!

Right on the cover of the book is your first clue. The title. Before I Die. This is going to be A Sad Book. What's worse is that the UK version of the book has reviews from several newspapers on the back, including one from the Daily Express that says, "I defy anyone not to cry reading this book."

You know now that I had to try, right?

Tessa is a sixteen year old girl with leukemia. She is going to die. She knows it, her mother, father and brother know it, the reader knows it from the outset, and only her best friend Zoey seems not to be traumatized by the fact. When Tessa decides that she has a few things to check off her list before she goes, Zoey enters into it wholeheartedly, especially because the first one is territory where she's been before -- Tessa wants to lose her virginity.

But it's not all that easy -- not just the virginity losing, but the staying on course with the fatalistic, factual attitude she wanted to embrace. Zoey's got a boyfriend and is losing interest in her, Tessa is fighting with her brother, she and her stay-at-home dad are driving each other crazy, and Tessa longs for her mother to come back to them and tune-in to the fact that her daughter is dying. Tessa wants to order the universe in a way that suits her best, at the same time, she doesn't know what would suit her.

Even dying, things are hard.
And the dying part is not easy. As Tessa finds new things to love in the fading light of her life, it seems that the diagnosis she expected is only coming faster and faster. Tessa clinging tenaciously to the last bits of life, really seeing light, leaves, hearing her father's footsteps, her mother's stories -- these things produce an violent clashing clear gratitude and enormous frustration and fury at the unfairness that it all has to stop so soon, too soon.

Life is never enough.
And then, it ends.

And though you may have to read a chapter and set it down, pace around your house, put ice cubes on your face and bake a few loaves of bread in between chapters, you can read this novel without crying.

And once you're through, go outside and live.

Buy Before I Die (and an embroidered handkerchief?) from an independent bookstore near you!


Anonymous said...

This is a great review! I have a friend that told me to read this recently. I'll look for it next time I'm at my local bookstore. :)

Anonymous said...

I've heard so many good things about this book, and I do love a good cry, so. . . as soon as I'm done with my own Cybils stack, I will try to get my hands on this one. :-)

Anonymous said...

I've been meaning to read this book, but I need to GEAR myself up for the TEARS. Thanks for the nudge. I'll pick it up soon.

Anonymous said...

This is one of my very favourite YA books of recent years. After it broke my heart (but in the best possible way) I got my husband to read it so I wouldn't have to feel heartbroken alone. I hope everyone reads it and I can't wait to see what Jenny Downham comes up with next.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed Before I Die and I wish more books came with a warning about crying. Some books should not be finished in public