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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 27 April 2008
The story is narrated by Tessa, a spirited 16 year old who has terminal cancer. She has a few months left to live and there are certain things that she wants to do Before she dies. The book deals with her emotions as she faces the end, and realises that she is running out of time. Tessa's personality is vibrant and shines through Downham's writing, the themes in the book remain modern throughout (As with her 'to do'list), and her feelings are true and tearjerking.

As I got closer to the end of the book, I found myself not wanting to finish it, knowing full well what the ending would be. I have to admit I saw through the last few pages with tears in my eyes and when I finally closed the book I felt as if I had lost a good friend and cried like I never have done because of a book before.

It's a very moving story and written beautifully too. It made me realise how precious moments in life and time really are.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 18 September 2007
Initially a difficult subject to take on, Ms Downham has written a book that is truthful, funny, and in your face.

In the main character you have a teenager full of all the angst and uncertainty of growing up, but with the huge weight that she is not going to see out her teenage years. Despite this she is still stroppy, selfish, and determined to do what she wants to do, no matter what the consequences, as she has nothing to lose.

I applaude Ms Downham on her writing. Her ability to make you both dislike, and emphathise with this young woman and what she is going through is credit to Ms Downham, to dare the reader not to want to do exactly the same as Tessa in the circumstances.

Funny, heart-breaking and brave. Ms Downham has written an exceptionally brilliant first book. I dare anybody not to be touched by this book and I look forward to reading more from Ms Downham.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 19 August 2014
I always said that there must be better books out there than The Fault in Our Stars by John Green when tackling teenage cancer in a novel. And there was. I have just read it.

Tessa is a young teenager and she's being ravaged by Leukemia, she has battled it for years of her young life and now things are not going so well. The sand in the timer is falling faster.

"I've been ill for so long, puffed up and sick, with patchy skin, flaky fingernails, disappearing hair and a feeling of nausea that permeates to my bonds, it's not fair. I don't want to die like this, not before I've even loved properly. It seems so clear to me. I feel almost hopeful, which is mad. I want to live before I die. It's the only thing that makes sense."

This book doesn't skip a beat and gets straight into things, Tessa is making a list of things she wants to do before she dies, on that list are things like have sex and take drugs. Not many books tackle sex so quickly (in the first 20 pages) as this book did in the way that it did.

Tessa is very well presented as a teenager, she has her moods, she acts immature and selfish at times, her character is very real, not an ounce of fake about this girl. She is at times brutally honest with herself and others about her predicament.

Around Tessa the cast of characters include her Mother and Father who are separated but pulling together for Tessa, her young brother Cal and her best friend Zoe. Zoe is the one friend who does not treat her different because she is sick and dying, they have an intense friendship with a lot of typical teenage push and pull.

I loved the way this book was written, I felt so many emotions whilst reading it, something that The Fault in Our Stars had not done for me. I have seen what cancer does to a young person (and old) and how it alters thinking processes, bodily functions, personalities all around the sick person. This book presented all sides to it, no holding back.

There are so many beautiful moments in the book as I journeyed with Tess as she worked to get through her list of things to do (some a little crazy!), things most teens would want to experience if they were going to die by sixteen. I smiled with her when she did and I ached for her when her heart ached. I applauded her when she showed courage.

It's a profoundly beautiful novel, I won't forget this one ever, I can't believe I had never heard of it (I found a copy of this book in a local charity shop for 80p). I read it in less than two hours, just turning the pages and soaking it all in.

I can't reveal special spoilers but this book takes a twist that I just loved, it melted my heart, I felt everything with Tessa. And by golly, the ending, oh my goodness!, I choked up, I shed tears, I was so with the moment. Books hardly ever make me actually that emotional so this was special.

A book that reminded me of my own mortality but also that I am still alive, and to grab it and maybe start my list before it's too late. Cancer is a ravager of the body and soul. Tessa's journey was brilliantly represented, I truly found this to be a heart-warming, poignant, emotional and powerful book. Stunning.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 11 June 2011
Throughout this book I thought that All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands by Sufjan Stevens would be a good soundtrack song. The first lyric of the song is `if I am alive this time next year' and it really fit the novel. When Tessa was writing a note to her dad, she mentions songs to be played at the funeral. This was one of them.

But, here's the thing, I didn't really like this book. I actually kind of resented it. I didn't particularly like Tessa, yet I sobbed so much at the end that I felt wrung out. It made me feel manipulated, I don't know why. And I know that I am in the minority with these thoughts with the number of gushing reviews I've glanced at over the years.

To me Tessa was ungrateful, annoying and even whiny. And yes, she is faced with her own mortality at an age where all she should be worrying about is boys and exams, I get that. But I don't think this excuses her, excuses anyone, for the anguish she put her family through when she periodically went off the rails a bit. I felt so sorry for her father trying to cope with her, trying to spend some time with her, but also trying to be a parent for Cal, Tessa's younger brother.

This is very much a character driven book, told in first person from Tessa's point of view. The fact I didn't like Tessa was a bit of a large stumbling block. I wanted to know her backstory but it was severely lacking.

However, what kept me reading were the minor characters. Her best friend Zoey had stuck with her throughout her illness, the only friend brave enough to do so. She didn't pander to Tessa's moods, didn't pity her. She helped Tessa complete some points on her list.
Cal, bless him, said on numerous occasions that he wished she would just hurry up and die, a thought I had also.

My favourite characters were Tessa's father and Adam, her boyfriend. Her father was bravely trying to cope with his child dying before him. He so wanted to spend quality time with her but she was so fixated on her list that I could have screamed at her. He was patient and caring, trying not to smother Tessa but being clear that there are still boundaries she cannot cross. He was very well written. Adam was lovely, if a bit flat. He was going through his own problems after the death of his father and trying to cope with the deep depression his mother was in, but still falling in love with Tessa. He perked the book up and even, eventually, made me warm towards Tessa a bit. At first, typically, Tessa didn't like him.

Credit where credit is due though, I thought the writing was for the most part well done. Yes, I would have liked the characters to be more developed but I thought that the imagery was effective at conveying Tessa's despair, especially at the beginning.

I thought the writing came into its own near the end. As Tessa was going in and out of consciousness, her thoughts were interspersed with her family's voices. I think it was the reactions of her family, the impact this had on all of them, that made me cry. The end made it a worthwhile read.

I'm glad I read it but I won't ever feel the need to read it again.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 11 March 2008
You will not regret buying this book. Fantastic read, like many others I couldn't put it down.
It makes you think about what you would do in a situation like this and you can really feel the pain and anguish the parents are going through watching their child with this disease. It is very funny in parts, especially as you travel with Tessa living out her dreams in the months she has left to live.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 3 May 2010
I have not been so gutted by a book for a long time (Atonement?). Why is it SOOO sad? The last time I cried so much over a book was when I tried to read my children 'The Velveteen Rabbit'. And I realised: it is the same story. Tessa, the herione, is the Velveteen Rabbit. Because she is loved by the boy (Adam) she becomes real. So when she dies (like the Rabbit gets burned on the bonfire) her life has been made worthwhile by the fact that she has known what it is to be loved by (and to love) a real human being. She threatens to come back as a ghost, and the rabbit revisits the boy as a real rabbit (who might as well be a ghost, given the problem of talking across species.) Although Adam is the least credible character in the story he is also the most important (is it possible he only exists in her imagination?) and it is the scenes with him that are the most heart wrenching. Sob sob sob. It is, of course, deeply embarrassing to get so wound up by a book written for teenagers, but do read it (in private, armed with a box of tissues).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 19 August 2009
So, I read this book a while ago but I still think that as a fourteen year old girl (my age when I read it) it just wasn't appealing. Tessa was outlandish and arrogant with not a lot of detailed explanation into why she was doing it apart from 'I'm dying', which was repeated over and over. The romance between her and 'the guy next door' who is equally messed up is the slight normality in Tessa's self-aided manic lifestyle. She defies her loving dad who is only trying to protect her and gets into trouble, resulting in many soul searching pages of speculation. The writing style was simplistic and naive most of the time but towards the end, was linked very nicely and softly to innocence that Tessa had to lose when faced with her condition and trying to grow up before she passed on. The ending was moving but uncomfortable at parts, which captured the right sort of mind frame for death. I didn't like the majority of the book, but it did build up to a good ending. a 3/5 for me.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 22 December 2010
i bought this book in my local bookshop with my dad and he looked at the back and told me "it looks a bit sad, don'y you think!" but i didn't take any notice of that and bought it anyway.
that night i was really looking forward to reading my new book, however, when i did i looked at the reviews of heat magazine and most of them said the book would make you cry and that night i had read about twenty pages and was crying pools already! i'm not sure why because the first few pages are NOT, i repeat NOT sad at all, but, i still cryed!!
i am rating this a 4 and a half star (although it doesn't show the half) because before i die really made me feel like i was there, inside the book, and this doesn't happen normally with books but the way the author wrote it made the words touch my heart and my feelings which caused me to feel sorry with a mixture of upset for the main girl!!
i reccomend this for anyone as long as you know what you're waiting for: tears.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 23 October 2007
Just to be clear, I'm by no means a teenager but this was a really moving story that can be enjoyed at any age. From the point of view of somebody who read English at university, loves reading copiously and also works in children's publishing, I am surprised to be so taken aback by a book written by a newcomer. You will laugh and cry and as another reviewer said, by the end of the book you feel like you've lost a friend. It is superbly written. I can't wait for the next one.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 21 October 2007
Whilst it could so easily have been depressing this book managed to be uplifting. Quite easy to read, in fact I read this in one sitting. I found this beneficial as I feel if I had taken longer I may not have remember at what stage of her treatment she was at.

The main character is Tessa, the novel's narrator. She only has a few months of her life left and at 16 years old, having been sick for the last four years; Tessa wants to make the most of her remaining time. Her list contains the 10 most important things she wants to do; learn to drive, have sex, take drugs, doing something illegal and many others. Getting what she wants does not always bring about the desired consequences but along the way she discovers new things about her relationships with Zoey (the best friend), Cal (her younger brother) and her parents.

Life isn't always rosy but through Tessa we get to look at our own priorities and what's important for us as the reader. A tough book with emotions running high all the way through it. The ending isn't so much a tear-jerker as a thought provoker. It is so well-written and a delightful find.
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