Thursday, January 24, 2008

Before I Die

Downham, Jenny. 2007. BEFORE I DIE. New York: Random House. ISBN 9780385751551 [Suggested Grade Levels 9-12]

Dying of incurable leukemia, sixteen-year-old Tessa makes a list of things to do “before I die.” Her on-again, off-again best friend Zoey helps her with several of the points such as finding someone with whom to have sex, driving without a license, and using drugs. The list provides a means for Tessa to feel alive with some control of her situation. Fortunately for her, she does find love with the young man next door, Adam. Tessa’s emotions seesaw from raging against the unfairness of it all to reveling in the moments she does have. The final moments of the book prove poignant as Tessa drifts in and out of consciousness until her last breath.

Without sentimentality, Downham tackles a difficult subject for teens – one’s own mortality. She creates a sympathetic character with very complex emotions set in a very contemporary world. The secondary characters such as Tessa’s father, Zoey, and Adam are well-developed and multifaceted as well. This powerful story stays with the readers long after the last page is read.

Pair with Crutcher’s DEADELINE ISBN 0060850892 to get both a male and female perspective on dying. The book would work well for literacy circles or for teen book groups.

Other books dealing with dying:
Crutcher, Chris. DEADLINE. ISBN 0060850892
Ehrenhaft, Daniel. 10 THINGS TO DO BEFORE I DIE. ISBN 0385730071
McDaniel, Lurleen. IF I SHOULD DIE BEFORE I WAKE. ISBN 0874068312

By Donna Woody

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