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Monday, 25 August 2008

Before I Die


by Jenny Downham


I rarely read books twice. I know I will read this again, and again. I also know I will cry each time and that once more I will be affected by it long after I put it down.
The title (and indeed the cover picture of the edition I read) give a fairly big clue as to how the book might end. But the journey towards what becomes clearly inevitable is so beautifully written that it is impossible not to want to accompany the central character, sixteen year old Tessa, every step of the way, no matter how sad. It is written in her teenage voice and I think that is part of the magic of the book. Because you see, feel, hear even smell the situation through her eyes it is impossible to step back. The book doesn't patronise; it is uncompromising and unrelenting in facing up to her terminal illness and yet it is more about life and living than it is about dying. It is also filled with much humour which makes it feel all the more poignant

Tessa has a list. The list includes most of the things that teenagers feel they have all the time in the world to do. She wants to do everything on the list before she dies but the prognosis is bleak. She may not have much time. She asks her best friend Zoe to help her. Zoe agrees but refuses to allow Tessa's illness to redefine their friendship, and refuses to feel sorry for Tessa. Their friendship is not cute and girly it is gritty and real. It is what Tessa clings to as she watches the fear in her parents' eyes increase, as the doctors run out of the right things to say. And then Tessa meets Adam, the boy next door. With time of the essence their relationship takes on an intensity few of us may ever experience.

I won't give away any more. You must read it. Even thinking about it as I write this review is giving me goosebumps. It is extraordinary, poetic and perfectly heartbreaking.

reviewed by Lynne McAllister

1 comment:

alison watson said...

Bought this book solely on the recommendation here.
Have just finished it.
Haven't cried at a book since finishing Gone With The Wind when I was fifteen. Thank God I was at home and not on the train...

What a marvellous, heartbreaking, life-affirming God-I-wish-I'd-written-this book.
thanks for the prod, Lynne.