Book Review: Before I Die – Jenny Downham



I had very high expectations when I very excitedly bought this book. I had heard fantastic reviews, everyone who had read it that I had come across ranted and raved about it and its protagonist, Tessa. The blurb looked okay but oh how wrong I was, I thought this would be a tale of strength, determination and really living your last days to the full with happiness and laughter. That said I was also expecting her to be scared or upset that is a given but well I’m afraid thats all it was at times, fear and wanting to achieve the unachievable. It’s not just that the tale was sad, it was outright miserable to read.

I’m sorry to admit I got bored of this book extremely quickly, I forced myself to carry on reading and in the end I’m glad I did as parts of the novel were beautifully written, especially any references to nature. However, this doesn’t stop my annoyance at the author Jenny Downham, sixteen year old Tessa writes a list of things she wants to do before she dies of terminal leukaemia, sounds like a good plot line right? That’s what I thought but throughout the entire novel we do not see this list at all!!! I feel that if you are going to write a whole novel on the idea of a kind of bucket list, then wouldn’t you include the list somewhere in the book itself? However Downham does not give us one, we are left trying to struggle to remember what Tessa has achieved from the list and therefore making it slightly pointless.

While the novel is classed as young adult, it did feel rather immature for its subject matter and focused heavily on clichè. Number one on the list is to have sex, resulting in a quite strange night, which, if I’m honest seemed out of place in relation to the character and the plot itself. Another on the list is to get stoned, say yes for an entire day (which actually turns out to be quite sweet) and get famous, yes you read that right… I wasn’t that impressed. Then throw into the mix an amazingly annoying best friend who is ‘wild’, a runaway mother, a doting father (who I felt Tessa treated extremely badly), a very sweet younger brother (who should of had more emphasis put on him and the relationship he has with his sister) and the boy, because of course there’s a boy next door.

Tessa herself has not been portrayed in the best light. I felt little sympathy or connection to her at all. Yes she is a young dying girl, with a right to feel unhappy and wanting to do this her way, but she just came across as terribly selfish to absolutely everyone around her and, really, a bit of a brat. I was especially annoyed at the way she treated her father who had done nothing but good for her and obviously loves her so much, if this relationship had been expanded then maybe there would of been more to like about Tessa. Although that said there is obviously a deep connection between her and her younger brother Cal, although he to, is not always well portrayed and this could have been explored more.

For this I only give 2 stars **, I really wasn’t that impressed with it compared to other books I have read that surround the subject of terminal illness. The character of Tessa was not terribly likeable, nor did I feel I could connect with her and the plot.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Before I Die – Jenny Downham

  1. femaleinferno says:

    It’s a pity you did not enjoy this book as much as I did. I have battled cancer twice and appreciated the realistic portrayal of going through Chemo and battling illness. We never get to see Tessa’s bucket list because the point of the novel is that she chooses to live as much as she can and that bucket lists are always evolving and changing as we do. She takes risks does the wrong things to live through those experiences, because, what’s the point of living a “perfect” life if it’s ending anyway? Maybe I could relate to it because my life had a lot of similarity. I loved the English humour and irony. You might like the movie better though – it stars Dakota Fanning (Called “Now is Good”) Thanks for sharing your thoughts – looking forward to reading more on common titles we’ve read 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • chloemetzger says:

      That’s really interesting, I’m glad you felt it was realistic as someone who has lived through it (also hoping you are well now). Ah I never thought of it that way, I may need to re read it at some point with that in mind and see if it changes my view. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my review and commenting 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • femaleinferno says:

        Love reaching out to fellow bibliophiles 🙂 And yep, well now, free and clear from cancer for 7 years now. I too made a bucket list, did some crazy things – it’s funny how your perspective changes when you facing death.Glaf I’m still around to do even more crazy things, and of course, read more books!


  2. Lauren Busser says:

    I can see what you mean. We never do see the list. I ended up watching the movie adaptation, renamed to “Now Is Good,” and I think that reflected my opinion of the book and the movie. I will say that I actually liked Tessa because I had cancer as a kid and it can be frustrating. I didn’t see her unlikeable as much as a kid who’s been through some stuff and just doesn’t have anyone in her corner.


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