This past Saturday morning, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably upon finishing a book I began reading one week ago entitled Before I Die by first-time British novelist Jenny Downham. I picked the book up (along with 8 other titles) with the hopes that I’d stumbled across something delicious for my book club kids to devour in the coming weeks… and I was not at all disappointed. Well, maybe just a little… but only because this novel may be less suitable for my kiddoes and more suitable for the big, bad 9th graders down the hall.
The protagonist of the book, Tessa Scott is a brilliant, sassy and observant young narrator who is dying of a severe form of leukemia. She has been suffering with the disease for almost four years when we meet her, and it has been made clear to the teen that her days are numbered. Upon receiving the news of her imminent death, Tessa begins to live her life (for lack of a less cliche’d phrase) to the fullest. She pens a list of the 10 things she wants to do before she dies.
Needless to say, the remainder of the novel depicts her bold and often frightening attempts at completing the goals on her list before she dies. Although this story could have easily become cheesy or trite, it was instead refreshing, exhilarating, touching, and at times (as an adult who is sadly but surely outgrowing her youthful adventure days) scary. I highly recommend this book to teens and adults alike. It is a fast read, as the reader is drawn into the protagonist’s efforts to beat time, and the end is absolutely beautiful.
The only major drawback? It’s a bit too racy for 7th grade. Parents be warned — if you are uncomfortable with your child reading about sex or drug use, this book is not for you. Although the racy scenes are very limited (only 3 scenes that really made me squeamish), they are fairly explicit. Series like Gossip Girl, Twilight, the Clique, and others are probably about as graphic and much less meaningful or theme-rich. But this book may be a bit too mature to be assigned reading from Ms. Stabookski. I’ll sadly walk my 12 copies down the hall to the high school. 😦