Saturday, November 17, 2007

Before I Die


Downham, Jenny. 2007. Before I Die.

There are no surprises in Before I Die. What do I mean? Well, if you're expecting a happy ending with a miracle cure, you'll be disappointed. Our heroine, our narrator, is dying throughout the book, and does in fact die. Some people are drawn to these types of sad, tragic, heart-breaking dramas. Some authors are known for it, specialize in weepy women as their main audience. While Before I Die is sad, it is so much more than just another sad book. Our narrator, Tessa, is sixteen and dying. That is sad in and of itself. But Tessa's problem is that she doesn't want to die before she has a chance to live. If she's going to die, she's going to make the most of every single moment. She doesn't want to waste her time with trivialities. No school for her. No obeying her parents' rules. No obeying anybody's rules. She wants to experience it all--sex, drugs, alcohol, shoplifting, love, happiness. She wants to feel it all, live it all. She wants to pack a whole lifetime of experience into the few months she has left.

This is a drama or melodrama about life, family, friends, and love. Her relationships aren't easy. Dying isn't a piece of cake. It's hard for her to get along with her mother, her father, her brother, her best friend, her boyfriend. Life is full of ups and downs that goes for everyone--Tessa's dramas are magnified even more by the fact that her time is limited. So normal teen angst can be a bit more angsty and intense.

The writing is good. While this book may or may not be your kind of book--it might be an acquired taste to dwell on death and dying and leaving everyone you love behind--I want you to be aware of it at least. To know that there is a book out there that while emotionally manipulative--it has to be--is quite good. There was a time that I could almost weep on command at any sad story, any sad movie, any sad song. And while that still happens sometimes--I won't lie--I like to think that I've matured some. I was doing so well with this one, but even my heart wasn't made of stone at the very end.

S
P
O
I
L
E
R

As a teen, my experiences with death (with losing a loved one) were practically nonexistent. However, as an adult, I've lost a grandmother to congestive heart failure and diabetes, and a grandfather to cancer. (My other grandfather died of cancer a year before I was born.) And I've lost another person whom I was extremely close to to cancer. (Imagine getting the diagnosis the week or so before Thanksgiving, and then dying the first week of December.) The past six or seven years have been rough for me. Cancer is a scary word. A life-changing word. One that strikes fear in me. I've seen it up, close, and personal. It is ugly. It is scarring. It is terrifying. So reading about a girl with cancer, watching her die, even though the circumstances are so far removed from watching a grandparent die...some truths are universal no matter the age. So when it came time for Tessa's death scene, her surrounded by family, it was all too real for me. The sights. The sounds. Everything. Because I have lived the death bed scene--with my grandmother--this one was frighteningly real. I don't know if there are enough words to describe what it is like to watch someone you love die. The pain, the shock, everything. It's just too much too soon. You don't want them to suffer. You know it's coming. But to watch them gasp for breath, to hear the gasps for breath, to hear the gurgling noises, well, this scene got to me. The death bed scene was hard to read because it was so authentic. I don't know if all readers will pick up on just how authentic it is. To sit there and watch someone you love die. To see someone you love unconscious, and not really knowing if they can hear you, if they can feel you loving them, supporting them, letting them go. Of not knowing how to say goodbye but knowing that this is your only chance.

I didn't love every minute of this one. I couldn't. Tessa wasn't always likable. She wasn't always pleasant to be around. Tessa's vision of how to spend her last months and weeks wouldn't mesh with my vision of how I'd spend my last days. Her priorities aren't mine. Her choices, her views are far removed from mine. But Tessa's story is moving just the same.

2 comments:

Marg 5:29 PM  

This sounds good. Thanks for reviewing it!

Dewey 9:40 PM  

I had to scroll past the spoilers because this one is on my wishlist. I'm glad there's no miracle cure, because I like when books are more realistic, and reality is, everyone dies.

Post a Comment

I'm always happy to hear from you! To help fight spam, comment moderation has been set up for posts older than two days. Feel free to ask me questions or ask for recommendations!

Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

Unique Visitors and Google PR Rank

Free PageRank Checker

Pageloads Counter

Search Book Blogs Search Engine

The background is based on a background I found here...with some small adjustments on my part so it would work with the template.
Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

  © Blogger template Newspaper III by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP