This book was an impulse purchase at the airport as the title of the book intrigued me. Never did I realize that I will be reading a heart-wrenching story of a sixteen-year-old cancer patient who has a bucket list for her remaining time on earth. Knowing that her life is short-lived, Tessa pushes herself to face facts: “I have two choices – stay wrapped in blankets and die or get the list back together and get on with living.”
Affirmations for life and the importance of family, the story is heart-breaking and despite the hoplessness of the situation, it will suck you in Tessa’s life, a teenager, who discovers that life is worth living the best you can. Making a decision to say “yes” to everything is hard work, and Tessa’s story will push you to take the first step. I felt her hunger for life as she licks an ice-cream stick until “the wood rasps my tongue” and grieved with her and discovered the little pieces of life that normally go slightly unnoticed.
Tessa’s relationships and their interactions thrum with tension and tenderness, that I ached with her at the thought of losing them. In her final moments, we know that her plan worked. Desperate to live what little life she has left, she checks her list of things from her list before she dies (Losing her virginity, doing drugs, experiencing things she’ll never get to experience). For every one item crossed off meant another day alive but also another day closer to her death. Tragic but with a touch of humor, the story is fairly predictable but it will truly make your heart ache. Its simplicity also makes it feels more genuine, as if it is actually written by Tessa. It makes you think about and appreciate your own friends, your family – your very life.
As I read the spareness of Tess’ life made so by her illness, who wants to squeeze in all of life’s moments, it allowed me to enrich my time with meaning and fulfillment. It made me reflect on what’s truly important in my own life. After the story ends, it makes you want to appreciate life and encourage you to start checking off things from Oh-this-I-will-do-later list and just do it. Downham has crafted such a realistic tone that it’s hard to believe Before I Die is a work of fiction.