Book Reviews

Before I Die by Jenny Downham book review




Tessa has just months to live. Fighting back against hospital visits, endless tests, and drugs with excruciating side effects, Tessa compiles a list. It’s her To Do Before I Die list. And number one is Sex. Released from the constraints of “normal” life, Tessa tastes new experiences to make her feel alive while her failing body struggles to keep up.

Tessa’s feelings, her relationships with her father and brother, her estranged mother, her best friend, and her new boyfriend, are all painfully crystallized in the precious weeks before Tessa’s time finally runs out.


I really don’t know why I torture myself by reading sad teenage dying stories I really don’t.

Tessa is 16 and dying of leukemia. She knows that she has only a few months to live and struggles to come to terms with her fate.

Trying to make the best of the time she has left, Tessa comes up with a list of things she would like to experience before she dies. Some items on the list are silly – to try drugs, to commit a crime, to become famous – but one desire overwhelmes Tessa.

She wants to experience love, but knowing that there is no way it is possible in her circumstances, she settles for having sex. This is how the story starts. The first sexual experience doesn’t make Tessa feel any better, in fact, she is crushed more than ever.

But things change when she gets to know her new neighbor – an 18-year old boy Adam, who has a heartbreaking story of his own…

They can’t help but fall in love with each other, even if that love will only ever be short lived…

Oh my god this book.

It broke me.

Much like TFIOS and If I Stay did.

It was heartbreaking and heart warming and made you want to take life by the balls and grab it because you really don’t know when your time is up.

I loved Tessa’s list. It was a mixture of stupid things that I suppose most teenagers want to try in life. But love was her main one, despite the fact she was dying and I can understand why she’d want that. Everyone wants to be loved, everyone wants to feel special with another person and just becasue she’s dying that doesn’t mean she can’t have that right.

Then along comes Adam, her 18-year-old neighbour, whose suffering from loss himself, so the last thing he wants to do is get involved with a girl whose dying. But these things can’t be helped and even though Tessa does push him away sometimes, they fall in love with each other.

Adam is perfect. He’s kind and honourable and loving and he knows that there time together is limited but he wants her anyway. He makes her last few weeks on earth the best she’s ever had. Making love to her, taking her on motorbike rides, supplying her with drugs, being there for her when she hates being alone at night despite the fact he doesn’t like leaving his mother alone.

I couldn’t get on with her friend though, (I’ve forgotten her name haha) she wasn’t really there for Tessa, she was too wrapped up in her own life to worry about Tessa’s and even though she said she’d help her with her list, she didn’t do much. I found her quite spiteful at times and I wanted to shout; “Your best friend is dying, be there for her!” She did redeem herself slightly though and spent most of her days with Tessa at the end.

The ending though.

I’m glad I’m single becasue that was some ugly crying I did haha (Not as much as the TFIOS crying… I couldn’t see out of my eyes for that!)

When her time was finally coming to end, it was spent at home because she refused to be in a hospital. Her conscious was spent between dreams and reality. Dreaming of a normal life with Adam and her family, with having children and getting married. The reality was hearing her family telling her it was okay to let go, that they loved her and they wouldn’t forget her. It broke my heart.

The book was well written and Jenny had really brushed up on her understanding of Lukemia and how it effected other people. I loved it.

5/5 stars


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