Before I die
by Jenny Downham
I receive a lot of interesting books to review but don’t often get novels landing on my doormat. So this book for teenagers looked like some light holiday reading on our Cornish weekend away. I could not put it down and it made me cry. It’s a wonderful book, beautifully written, although it does deal with some thorny issues quite apart from death.
Tessa has leukaemia and, at 16, she makes a list of things she wants to do before she dies. She lives with her dad and younger brother and is best friends with party-going Zoey. It’s Zoey who drags her off to a nightclub and matches her up with a willing boy so that she can cross off the first item on her list – to have sex.
Though sad it’s also darkly funny. Neighbour Adam picks some magic mushrooms so that she and Zoey can get high – and she becomes convinced that she has found the answer to her illness and climbs a tree to collect twigs and leaves to make a shelter in the wood. Here she will be away from the modern world and its gadgets and won’t be sick.
Tessa reacts with the anger you would expect at her illness. She hurls the contents of her bedroom out of the window and Dad calls her a monster. Brother Cal tells her not to haunt him when she is gone. And she and Adam fall in love. She wants to stay alive till spring, till now-pregnant Zoey has her baby and she wants her mum and dad to get back together again ...
David Fickling Books, 2007
Hardback, 328 pp, £10.99