Tessa has just a few months to live. So she compiles her bucket list, her To Do Before I Die list. 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.I’ll admit, I avoided that book about a girl with cancer. You know the one? Okay? Okay. I watched the movie and, I know I’m the odd one out when I say it wasn’t really my thing. I definitely had a hangover of that movie when I started Before I Die and I was wary. Was this book going to make me roll my eyes too? (Yes, I know that probably makes me heartless). This was a tough book to read and not at all something I could consider enjoyable, but it did make me think and sometimes that’s the best outcome from any book.
Before I Die has left me feeling quite conflicted. There’s an obvious sense of foreboding and sadness when you transpose the situation Tessa and her family are facing onto your own life. It’s something I, thankfully, have never had to consider before. How would you face your final months? How would you prioritise what you wanted to do before you die? How would you, as a parent, a sibling, a friend, cope with losing the person you loved? For me, the power of this book lies in its ability to have such a strong emotional affect when the main character is fairly unlikeable.
Now, I’ve never felt a character has to be likeable for a book to be enjoyable or good. Before I Die is certainly proof of that. It’s moving and thought-provoking despite Tessa being a character which I just couldn’t connect with. But, this could be because I’ve never been in the same situation. While I think I would react a certain way, there’s no guarantee I would end up acting just like Tessa. The thing I did really enjoy about Before I Die was seeing the relationship between Tessa and her brother. We need more siblings in YA.
I haven’t really discussed this book in specifics yet, because it really did just leave me feeling a little meh. I find it incredibly hard to truly enjoy books where I don’t connect with a character, even if that character is unlikeable. This book didn’t make me cry, but then again that’s not something I do often when reading. It made me feel emotional, but really only when I considered what I would do if faced with the same situation. Yet, in a strictly writing sense, Before I Die was compelling. Downham’s style is easy to get into and I found it hard to put down.
While this didn’t wow me in terms of characters, I will definitely be reading more of Downham’s work. Reading Before I Die re-affirmed my decision to steer away from books about people dying from cancer. They just aren’t my thing, really. Downham’s style is enjoyable, but I just couldn’t truly connect to Tessa, or any of the other characters. I’m sure if I had, my emotional feeling towards this book would have been different. Writing this review I feel like a total grump, but I just didn’t feel what I should have while reading Before I Die.