Before I Die by Jenny Downham is not an easy read for a number of reasons. Sixteen year old Tessa is dying of leukemia. She has battled the disease for more than four years and has accepted that she will die. To cope with this Tessa makes a list of things she’d like to do before she does. First up is sex.
Tessa needs new experiences to make her feel alive as her body fails her. Tessa’s feelings, her relationships with her father and brother, her estranged mother, her best friend, and her new boyfriend, all are painfully crystallised in her last few weeks.
Before I Die is an intense read with a stunning ending. There is little sentimentality in this book, Downham doesn’t shy away from tackling difficult issues. However, Before I Die is both life-affirming and beautifully written. The NZ National Library Service describes the book as ‘an essential read for High School students and for young adults.’