Sunday, March 11, 2012

Before I Die by Jenny Downham


  • Paperback: 327 pages.
  • Genre: Young adult fiction.
  • Publisher: Random House Group 2007
  • Source: Sent to me by a blogging friend in the UK. Len Lambert Writer
  • First Sentences : ‘ I wish I had a boyfriend. I wish he lived in the wardrobe on a coat hanger.’
  • Review Quote: ‘ Novels for young teenagers do not usually feature drugs and casual sex within the first 20-odd pages. But most books for teenagers will not leave an adult reader’s eyes so blurry with tears that it’s hard to see the final chapters. Jenny Downham’s extraordinary first novel does both.’ Sunday Times
  • Awards: ALA Teens' Top Ten (2008), Branford Boase Award (2008), ALA's Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults (2008), The Inky Awards for Silver Inky (2008), Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee (2012)
  • My Opinion : Heart breaking I recommend to the young adults it is intended for. 

  • As a genre YA is one I normally stay well away from but this was recommended by a blogging friend Len Lambert who very kindly sent me her copy when she had finished with it.
    I had to preserve with this one and I was at least half way through before it began to have much impact. It is indeed a very sad novel and you would have to be a very hard person for it not to be an emotional read.  
    The narrator is Tessa a sixteen year old that has been fighting a loosing battle with leukaemia for the past four years and has now been told that she probably just has months to live. She writes the inevitable list of things she wants to do before she dies, trying to cram them all into the few months she has left. The list includes everything from sex, drugs, crime, and fame as Tessa hurtles towards the time her body can no longer cope with the demands she has placed on it. As she tells us the story her feelings and relationships with her parents, sibling and friends are all painfully related.
  • The ending is of course particularly poignant as we already know that Tessa is going to die. Reality and dreams all start to get mixed together and the closing pages are a very emotional read as those that care about her gather around her to make their farewells.
    I did not really enjoy this book and would never had chosen to read it myself had it not been recommended. I think though it is a good introduction to teenagers on the emotions that come with knowing you are dying.  It will undoubtedly transfer well to the cinema and is to be released as a film Now Is Good in May 2012.

    Author Profile

  • Jenny Downham was born in 1964, she is a British novelist and an ex-actor. Before I Die, was her first novel which is to be released as a film called ‘Now is Good’ in 2012. The book was short listed for the 2007 Guardian Award and the 2008 Lancashire Children's Book of the Year, nominated for the 2008 Carnegie Medal and the 2008 Booktrust Teenage Prize, and won the 2008 Branford Boase Award.
    Her second novel, ,You Against Me was published in December 2010.[1] The book is powerful novel about family, loyalty, and the choices which we have to make. 

  • Getting to know Jenny Downham

    Uploaded by kidsatrandomhouse on Nov 29, 2010

    Book Trailer – Before I Die

  • Uploaded by TwilightLover2708 on Mar 7, 2010

  • Information, photo and video used in this post is with thanks to the following websites.
    Wikipedia - Jenny Downham
    Jenny Downham – Goodreads

  • I have chosen to read this title as the letter B for this challenge which I have decided to attempt, for now anyway, to achieve in alphabetical order. I have a good selection of titles to choose from on our bookshelves so will see how it goes. You can follow my progress here.


    1. It's always good to try to read something that we wouldn't normally go for. I'm finding that with the Book Club that I belong to. But sometimes I love just going back to read something that I really enjoy, which is what I am doing at the moment by reading A Gathering Storm by Rachel Hore. I have read several of hers, and enjoyed every one.

      1. Is it the sort of thing your teenage grand daughter would be reading do you think?

      2. I pushed publish too quickly. I meant to say I read The Memory Garden by Rachel Hore in 2009 and will hopefully read more of her novels, I found her style similar to Kate Morton.

    2. Hi Linda,

      I have read a couple of books just lately which are aimed at the YA audience and to be perfectly honest, I struggle with spotting any difference between this classification of book and a regular adult fiction novel. The content and language isn't any less graphic than most adult books and the emotional pull is sometimes even stronger.

      This would certainly seem to be the case with this book, which sounds heartbreaking and very emotional. I don't think that I would be rushing out to buy this one though, as I volunteer on an almost full-time basis for a local hospice shop and can spend a great deal of my time listening to donors who have either just lost a loved one to cancer, or who have the disease themselves. I could really do without reading novels about it in my free time.

      Sorry that you didn't find this a fulfilling read, although as you point out, it is probably written in a language that mose youngsters would understand, to convey the concept of death and dying.

      I hope that your next book is more to your liking and enjoy your week.

      1. Yvonne, this is exactly why I do not even like the existence of such a genre. I prefer to think that children are capable of deciding when they are ready for certain books, why do we need a young adult label! I can understand you wanting to give this one a miss.

    3. Good review - I don't think I could read this though - sounds heart wrenching.

      1. Thanks for calling by and commenting Ann, it is rather heart wrenching.

    4. I love YA, but I really don't care for sad books. I'm more of a fantasy girl. :)

      1. Thanks for calling by and commenting Susan, it sounds like our tastes are rather different then as I am not keen on Fantasy either

    5. Thanks for being my latest follower - I'm following you too.

      1. Thanks I look forward to getting to know you. :)


    I indulge my love of books with this blog and it makes it all worthwhile when you leave comments. I really am interested in what you think so do let me know. I have decided as the nature of this review blog makes for conversation in the comments, just to reply here and not individually, so please subscribe to comments or call back again to stay in the conversation. Thankyou for your continued support.