Between the Lines

Everyone can read, but really understanding a book and the story it represents is entirely different. It's important to adopt different perspectives. Here, I offer you mine.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Before I Die
Jenny Downham
327 Pages

“Everyone has to die. We all know it. With only a few months of life left, sixteen-year-old Tessa knows it better than most. She’s made a list, through—ten things she wants to do before she dies. Number one is sex. Starting tonight. But getting what you want isn’t easy. And getting what you want doesn’t always give you what you need. And sometimes the most unexpected things become important. Uplifting, life-affirming, joyous—this extraordinary novel celebrates what it is to be alive by confronting what it’s really like to die.”
Positive: 1. Forms of emotional response. It was interesting for me to see how each individual member of Tessa’s broken family—her divorced mother and father, as well as her younger brother—emotionally dealt with Tessa’s condition. Her father reacted with denial, always pushing Tessa to undergo treatments and talking about her getting better, though even Tessa herself knew she wouldn’t. Her mother, who was constantly absent before, tried to be there for her daughter, but still remained emotionally distant and refused to accept the seriousness of her situation. Cal, the younger brother, first came off as a snotty brat, cracking jokes about Tessa’s condition and acting almost jealous of the attention she got. It soon becomes obvious that Cal simply didn’t understand how to emotionally respond to losing his big sister, and Tessa understood that. The book showed different ways of how people protect themselves from the truth when it’s too much to bare. 2. Tessa’s evolution. Tessa changes in a number of ways throughout the book, which really interested me. At first, she’s a girl dying from cancer who wants to live up the last days of her life, but doesn’t have the courage to do it on her own. So, she enlists the support of her outgoing and adventurous best friend, Zoey. Throughout the novel, Zoey soon loses her risk-taking appeal as she becomes engulfed in her own problems, leaving Tessa to fend for herself. Towards the end, Tessa becomes the more outgoing of the two as she learned that she didn’t need to rely on Zoey to accomplish things she normally wouldn’t dream of. 3. Beautifully written. Terminal cancer is a serious and sensitive topic, one that may be difficult to capture through words. A lot of books are very sentimental and quite sappy when writing of a cancer victim, but this book did a great job of keeping a good balance between emotion and realism. While there were still a few tear-jerking scenes, it wasn’t a big sob story about someone dying. It was a headstrong girl who already came to terms with the fact that she wouldn’t live much longer, and was determined to make something of what little time she had left. Normally I don’t really like overly sentimental books about people who are dying, but I really enjoyed this one. Tessa, as the main character, was very well written, too. She was just as pissed off, as any teenager would be who couldn’t do what they wanted to do. Her list is composed of things a typical teen would want to do in their life, like have sex and try drugs, not say goodbye to loved ones or anything like that. She’s stubborn, and makes you almost angry with her when she makes a stupid choice. But she seems to grow and mature as the book goes on, and her time runs out.

Negative: 1. Zoey. I didn’t really understand why Tessa and Zoey were friends in the first place. Zoey seemed so shallow and self-absorbed to me! At first, she was all over helping her dying best friend with her final wishes before she died of cancer, but she gradually seemed to lose interest. I mean, she has a legitimate reason (which I won’t spoil for you who haven’t read it yet), but still! You’d think she’d try to pay more attention to Tessa as she slipped away. Maybe Tessa needed to feed off of her energy to complete her list, or maybe I just misunderstood how Zoey was being portrayed. Either way, the two didn’t seem to have a very reliable friendship. 2. Tessa’s behavior. Sometimes, the way Tessa acted really bugged me. There were instances in which she seemed self-absorbed, immature, and irresponsible. I understood that she was dying of cancer, but she used it as an excuse for some things that she really shouldn’t have. I wish she just took responsibility for her actions instead of trying to get people to feel sorry for her. Seeing as she’s a dying sixteen-year-old girl, though, I can understand why she acted that way every once in a while, but it still bothered me. It was a little hard for me to warm up to her at first.

Overall: Before I Die is a great quick read. Not quick because of length, but because you won’t be able to put it down. As Tessa races against time to complete her list of things to do, she adds and changes some of the items of the list as she learns that some of the things she wanted so desperately were really worthless when compared to others. I nearly felt guilty turning the page, knowing that each time I did I was only bringing Tessa closer to her inevitable death, but my growing curiosity for just how her death would come about kept me going. Tessa’s story reminded me of how lucky I was to be young and healthy. This book is very uplifting, making readers appreciate having all the time in the world.

Rating: One Thumb Up!

1 comment:

  1. Hi there,

    this was posted more than three years ago, I know, but it's a really nice post!
    Currently, I'm reading this novel at school and I absolutely sympathize with your view. It's a nice book, well written and some parts have a great touch of profundity!
    Especially the passages where she wrote the instructions for her family / friends were quite sad, I think.

    Well, I really like this post, it's exactly what I think about the novel!

    Oh, and sorry for misspelling etc; I'm German. :)