Before the days of reading My Sister’s Keeper and The Fault in Our Stars, I read another great book on the subject of teenage/young adolescent cancer. Before I Die by Jenny Downham was probably the first book I read in middle school that got me interested in reading. Was it possible for a book to be this interesting? Was it possible not to physically put it down? It was a true epiphany for me to read this book by Downham. She showed me that book can take you to another universe and back in just a hour.
Before I Die is about a teenager, Tessa, living with leukemia. She’s constantly in and out of the hospital and treatment. Tessa’s parents, who are divorced, both have different feelings about Tessa’s so-called bucket list she has put together to achieve before she dies. Tessa, on the other hand, and her best friend Zoey, try to get through Tessa’s list in a reasonable time. While entwined with her list, Tessa realizes that the simple things in life are what makes life worth living. This brings me to my connection to transcendentalism. Tessa, after a while, turns to focus on the present instead of the past or even the future. As a teenage girl dealing with cancer, she realizes that the present is what’s important and most beneficial.
In one of the earlier parts of the novel, Downham writes, “It’s really going to happen. I really won’t ever go back to school. Not ever. I’ll never be famous or leave anything worthwhile behind. I’ll never go to college or have a job. I won’t see my brother grow up. I won’t travel, never earn money, never drive, never fall in love or leave home or get my own house. It’s really, really true. A thought stabs up, growing from my toes and ripping through me, until it stifles everything else and becomes the only thing I’m thinking. It fills me up like a silent scream.” Through time with her family and friends, Tessa learns that the past is not what’s important. She learns to cope with her ever changing feelings. Every breath she takes is leading up to her death, but then again, so is everyone else. The experience Tessa gains from her bucket list and befriending a boy named Adam was enough to keep her happy, forever.
I strongly recommend reading this book. Actually, I strongly recommend reading anything Jenny Downham has written. Her writing style is just so captivating that, like me in middle school, you can’t put her book down. My Sister’s Keeper and The Fault in Our Stars are also good books about young people and the people around them, dealing with cancer.