. Athena's Books: Late Totally YA Tuesday-Before I Die...Let Me Love You
Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Late Totally YA Tuesday-Before I Die...Let Me Love You

Before I Die by Jenny Downham is a must read book. However, it is not for the younger reader due to serious subject matter and instances of strong language and adult situations. It's a crossover YA novel for teens and adults and falls into the "Edgy YA" category. To me it is also more literary than the typical contemporary fiction for teens. It takes you to the edge of the end--a teen girl's struggle with leukamia, the debilitating effects of disease, her loss of life just as she has discovered life. My favorite part happens to be the saddest part, but the writing is dream-like, like someone going in and out of consciousness, like someone saying goodbye through fragmented thoughts. The ending is experimental fiction at its best. And it's gut-wrenching with lucid language and mysterious and unbearable, yet beautiful.

There are certain things we all want to do before we our lives are finished. I could easily list about a 100 things with the top 5 all having to do with my family, loved ones, and friends. But, I'm 36 and I know what really counts. But what about when you're 16? Tessa's got her list and pretty high up on her list is losing her virginity. She expects to lose that part of her that defines her as inexperienced, but she doesn't expect to find life-altering love. As the book progresses, she finds more and more things to add because when life is ending, all of a sudden there is too much too let go. How does she say goodbye to the most important relationships in her life with her father, mother, brother, and boyfriend?


I wish I had a boyfriend. I wish he lived in the wardrobe on a coat hanger. Whenever I wanted, I could get him out and he’d look at me the way boys do in films, as if I’m beautiful. He wouldn’t speak much, but he’d be breathing hard as he took off his leather jacket and unbuckled his jeans. He’d wear white pants and he’d be so gorgeous I’d almost faint. He’d take my clothes off too. He’d whisper, ‘Tessa, I love you. I really bloody love you. You’re beautiful’ – exactly those words – as he undressed me.

I sit up and switch on the bedside light. There’s a pen, but no paper, so on the wall behind me I write, I want to feel the weight of a boy on top of me. Then I lie back down and look out at the sky. It’s gone a funny colour – red and charcoal all at once, like the day is bleeding out.


Tessa has just months to live. Fighting back against hospital visits, endless tests, drugs with excruciating side-effects, Tessa compiles a list. It’s her To Do Before I Die list. And number one is Sex. Released from the constraints of ‘normal’ life, Tessa tastes new experiences to make her feel alive while her failing body struggles to keep up. 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 the precious weeks before Tessa’s time finally runs out.

Tessa needs those she loves the most to go to the edge with her...and they do.