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Review: Before I Die by Jenny Downham

in a sentence or so: Tessa has a list of things she wants to do while she's alive. things like drugs, sex,
breaking the law, becoming famous, seeing her parents get back together and falling in love. the problem is, she's dying. fast.

Tessa is a fifteen year old who was diagnosed with leukemia when she was eleven. all of the treatments and blood transfusions have stopped working, and Tessa has accepted the inevitable. she's going to die. probably within the year. her dad is devoted to her and is doing his part to make her happy and as healthy as possible. her younger brother Cal (who is quite a magician) chats casually with her about her death and illness as if it were the weather.  Tessa's mom floats in and out of all of their lives, the free spirit that she is.

after a night out with her best friend Zoey, Tessa throws one of many to come tantrums and decides to destroy all of her things. lucky for her, neighbor boy Adam is burning a pile of leaves. her destruction of personal possessions opens the door to the new, even if doomed, relationship with (literally) the boy next door.

at first, i was hesitant to enjoy this read. Tessa was really difficult to like. she was bratty, bitchy, petty, unkind, and frustrating. yes - i know she has leukemia and is dying and so her difficult voice was intentionally intense, but still. it was hard for me. and the supporting characters felt flimsy for a good chunk of the read. but somewhere before the middle, the plot found it's rhythm.

Tessa's progression through her 'before i die' list was more of a backdrop than a driving literary device.  we slowly learn more about Tessa and her friends/fam/new romance in a very patient fashion.  bits and pieces, never a whole slice.  and i liked that.

the writing was tender, emotive, and vivid. Tessas internal reflections were insightful without being overly dramatic.  while i never grew to love her voice, i did grow to love Tessa's story. this book poses some big questions, big ideas, and big thoughts on life, death, love, friendship, family, and what it means to be fully present in the moment.

fave quote: "I bury these things in my heart - the fel of him under my fingers, the taste of him on my mouth.  I'll need them, like talismans, to survive an impossible journey." (347 | 442 Nook version)

fix er up: difficult to get in to, but like i mentioned above, the book really hits it's stride about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way in. it's worth the wait.

title: Before I Die
author: Jenny Downham
genre: Death, Family, Realistic

Lisa is a gamer, crafter, fangirl, mother, wife and unabashed nerd who is pretty ridiculous and it's best you know that up front. When she's not binge watching Netflix or crafting into the wee hours of the night, you can find her spending a lot of her time on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. so, it's a bucket list for teenagers?

  2. I agree with your review, I too thought that Tessa was difficult to like, but by then end of the book I grew to like her story.

  3. I read this book and I felt the same way about the same character, but I really liked the concept of the book

  4. e - i've never seen 'the bucket list', but i imagine that this might be loosely compared to that sort of style.

    k and r - good to know! i sometimes wonder if my critique is merely personal or something shared. thanks!

  5. There's been a couple of books recently where i didn't really like the characters, but enjoyed the book. It feels a bit weird.


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