Before I Die (Now is Good) – Jenny Downham

“I wish I had a boyfriend, I wish he lived in the wardrobe on a coat hanger. Whenever I wanted, I could get him out an he’d look at me the way boys do in films, as if I’m beautiful. He wouldn’t speak much, but he’d be breathing hard as he took off his leather jacket and unbuckled his jeans.”

Tessa has cancer. She is dying, choosing to stop the treatment that was causing her so much more pain than she could bear. But before she goes, she has a list, and every thing on that list has to be done. Number one on the list is sex, and that’s getting ticked off tonight. after that there’s a variety of things including drugs, doing something illegal and falling in love. But can she get through it before the end and can the list really stick to ten?

I thought I understood what I would get with Before I Die. The summary says a lot and I expected sadness, anger and grief, which I got, but I also got so much more and it was utterly fantastic, even if it was awful and made me cry, to read. 

As a reader you are thrown straight in at the deep end. I expected to get to know Tessa then read the point where she makes the decision to stop treatment and is told she will not survive. But no, once we meet her she has made that choice and is thinking about the end of her life and the list she has made. The list was pretty heavy stuff but I fully understood why Tessa wanted to do the things she did. A bucket list isn’t exactly something new but Tessa’s was different, and I loved that. 

As Tessa makes her way slowly through the list you find out a lot the list you find out a lot about her and her family and friends. I loved Tessa but also found her quite unbearable at times, I guess it can be forgiven but she came cross as selfish and harsh and very very angry a lot. Her dad was amazing and so patient with her and so strong. I felt awful for him for what he was going through but he managed to keep everything together quite well under the circumstances and look out for Cal as well as Tessa. Cal was adorable, mainly because he still had an element of innocence about him and bless him he made me laugh so much. You can tell that he and Tessa had the typical brother sister relationship that a lot of siblings have and thankfully they kept it all the way through. Tessa’s friend Zoey was a bit of a meh point for me, I really didn’t like her at all. In certain parts of the book you can understand why she was so selfish and bitchy but I didn’t like her before or after those parts either I’m afraid. Adam on the other hand, awwww, he was so lovely and sweet and the way he looked after both Tessa and his mum was amazing, he was such an angel! 

Tessa’s mum was unusual and the only thing about the book I didn’t like was her. I thought there was too little known about her, why she left, when she left and things like that. She didn’t have much of a presence and it bugged me as the story developed with her because I didn’t know the background. 

The other thing I wasn’t too impressed with was more personal to me and shouldn’t be a blimp on the book really. I’ve left it too late to read Before I Die and therefore read the movie tie-in version, Now is Good, after I’ve seen the trailer for the movie. This meant that I had the actor’s images in my head throughout the book and this particularly annoyed me because of Adam. Throughout the book Adam is described as being ugly and I’m sorry but I could only see him as Jeremy Irvine, who is not ugly! This is a personal grievance but as the book doesn’t really tell you anything about the characters appearance (other than that Adam is ugly) I couldn’t help but picture Dakota Fanning as Tessa etc. 

The writing style is amazing and I could really hear Tessa’s voice as I read the book. I think the thing that really stood out was the relaity and the anger, even though it’s not pleasent to read you realise that it is probably how a 16 year old would feel in that situation. I loved the format of the writing and how it changed as you go through the book, the chapters get shorter and towards the end they pretty much disappear completely as the illness takes its effect. The story goes in the obvious direction but its how it gets there thats the important part of the book. 

Before I Die is a very personal, emotional journey and its one that’s hard to put down. Tessa is trying to be true to herself and do what she wants but its hard. It’s a heavy hitter and I cried a lot. It’s definitely worth the read and I can’t wait to see the movie and see how close they have kept things to the book! 

Before I Die was published in 2010 by David Fickling Books, my copy was titled Now is Good and is the movie tie-in version which will be published on August 30th. I received the book in exchange for an honest review from the publisher. 


  • Cliona

    Amazing review! I’m intrigued now about what is on Tessa’s bucket list!

    That sounds annoying about Tessa’s mum, there’s nothing I hate more than something left unexplained in a book!

    This book kind of sounds like The Probability of Miracles, you should read that! It’s amazing, I know you’ll love it 🙂

  • Michelle

    I read this book in the previous format and was advised not to read it in work by a work colleague. I read it at home in one sitting and I am glad I did, I sobbed my heart out but really liked the book.

    Great review, it’s nice to see what others think of the book.

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