Before I Die – Jenny Downham

Oh my, Jenny Downham with Before I Die has written a book that just tears at your heartstrings. As I finished the last page, the tears that were on the verge throughout the whole book just started free falling. If you are going to read this, make sure you have tissues close by.

How many times have you thought about all the things you wanted to accomplish before dying?  I have a wish list of all the things I want to do and it is constantly being tweaked as I either accomplish something or find something new I want to do. I also think that I have a zillion years to accomplish all these things. What would you choose to do? What if you found out that you don’t have your whole life but a year or less…what would you choose to do then?

Here is what I would like to do:

  • Fall deeply truly no holds barred in love
  • Write a children’s book
  • Find a cure for Diabetes
  • Go visit Israel
  • Spend a night at an outrageously expensive hotel with 1000 count sheets and take a bath in a claw foot tub with someone feeding me strawberries
  • Take a spin in a hot air balloon
  • Eat sushi in Japan
  • Make sure that health records are open to all adopted children
  • Find the biggest scariest roller coaster in the world and ride in the very first box car
  • Drive the Autobahn

Tessa Scott is dying. There is no chance she is going to get better and there are things she wants to do before she dies. She is done – done with the hospitals, drugs, side effects – basically she is done fighting.  Who can really blame her? Her illness has been difficult for everyone – for her father whose eternal hope for a cure just hides his pain, a little brother who at times is incredibly annoying, her mom who spent most of her illness away and still can’t deal. Her anger at the life’s injustices and the unfair nature of her situation is apparent with each passing page. She makes a decision that these last months of her life are really going to be spent living, loving and feeling. For one thing she wants to have sex and she wants to be famous. She also wants to fall in love (and she does), do drugs, break a law. travel the world, see her parents back together, and be there for her friend Zoey’s daughter’s birth.  Her original list of ten things becomes much more the closer she gets to dying and the people in her life. I found myself rooting for her, hoping she would get everything done on her list.  I also found myself hoping, like she was, at the end that it wasn’t the end for her.  She says that “she doesn’t want to be dead that she hasn’t loved this way long enough.”   As  Tessa dies, I was reminded of my grandmother’s last days. We were expecting it but yet it it still came as such a shock.  Downham could’ve gotten all sappy and sentimental but instead she kept it real.

13 Reasons Why – Jay Asher

Hannah Baker committed suicide. You always wonder what could make a person do something like that. Hannah decided to let people know why and she had 13 reasons. She made 7 tapes, 13 sides, chronicling her life or to be more specific why her life came to an end. The rules were simple – you listen to all the tapes and then pass it on to the   next person. It won’t be easy either. She doesn’t let you know where your story is on the tapes but if you got the package then your story with her is on there somewhere. You can hear Hannah’s desperation. You just know as you read her words that she was slowly giving up on herself.
      Clay was one of the people who got the package. He couldn’t understand why he got the tapes. Clay never did anything to her but receiving the tapes must mean that he ties into her story some how. The question of how keeps running through his mind He had a crush on her. He felt that way since he met her but didn’t act on his feelings because like everyone else he heard the rumors about her. They had one night together but it wasn’t enough and now she is dead. Listening to the tapes is agonizing for him. You could feel the anguish he felt, the grief and anger as well.
      Adolescence is like a rollercoaster – full of ups and downs, twists and turns. There are days you are up and then there are days you are down. If you work with teenagers, you need to conscious that there may be Hannah’s walking around. I bet there are and we don’t even realize it. Alertness can save someone’s life.
      If this book was among a pile of other books and you could only choose one, I‘d say pick this one. You won’t forget Hannah’s words. Once I started the book I couldn’t put it down. The story had me tearing up. It also had me on the edge of my seat as the story built up to its climatic finish. Asher did a great job of writing a story about issues that plague teenagers today. By the end, I felt like I had known Hannah personally and mourned for her just as Clay did.