I asked the reps at Random House which of their books I should read. Of course, they first said that all of them for the upcoming months were excellent. I told them that I honestly wanted to pare down my reading and pick up the wonderful books I know are out there just waiting to be read.
The reps looked at each other, nodded their heads and one said, "Before I Die." They handed me a plain white ARC, one of those books that gives you no idea what the cover will look like.
It's been two months since they handed me the book, but when I finally picked it up to read, it captured me immediately.
With writing like, "I miss him as soon as he goes. When he isn't with me, I think I made him up," Jenny Downham captures something that I have not had the pleasure of reading before.
Before I Die is the story of Tessa, a sixteen-year-old girl in England, long ago diagonosed with leukemia. She has a list of things she would like to accomplish. Like many young adult novels, the book opens with Tessa getting herself into a bit of a complicated situation. First up on her list is sex, so she has her best friend Zoey take her to a club and help her pick up a guy. She does have a one night stand with that boy, and Zoey begins something of a relationship with his friend. But that's the only part of the book that is stereotypically YA. The writing is lyrical, and, yes, Tessa dies, but the way the author handles it is fitting, not over the top. I read the Lurlene McDaniel books with great interest as a teenager. Teen girls with fatal or chronic illnesses craving attention, affection and love, craving the chance to make a difference. Those books were just what I needed at the time, but they always had a soap opera feel to them - close ups with teary, wide-eyed faces. Before I Die, on the other hand, has a Louise Rennison/Georgia Nicholson edge, giving us the humor we need to continue reading about a dying sixteen year old girl.
Tessa's best friend, Zoey, neighbor, Adam, brother, Cal, father and mother all play important roles in the story, but Tessa remains, as she should, the focus.
If you only have time for one new book in September, pick up Before I Die by Jenny Downham.