I can't remember (so nothing new there then) whether friends who had read Jenny Downham's novel Before I Die and extolled me so to do, did so before or after CJ had read it and blogged it on A Book Every Six Days. Anyway it makes little difference because this week I read it. I am so glad that I did.
The book is ostensibly written for the teenage market. How many teenagers would appreciate it I'm not sure because the possibility of dying or even the idea of dying is too far away. The Before I Die website précis describes the novel thus: Tessa has just a few months to live. Fighting back against hospital visits, endless tests, drugs with excruciating side-effects, Tessa compiles a list. It's her To Do Before I Die list. And number one is sex. Released from the constraints of 'normal' life, Tessa tastes new experiences to make her feel alive while her failing body struggles to keep up. Tessa's feelings, her relationships with her father and brother, her estranged mother, her best friend, her new boyfriend, all are painfully crystallized in the precious weeks before Tessa's time finally runs out.
Looking back over Andy's fight against cancer I see similarities of attitude on occasion; flashes of acceptance, optimism, anger, bitterness and so many more emotions that someone who has not faced the imminent probability of death by illness (and specifically by cancer) must find hard to comprehend. I certainly do. For most of us, the reality of someone young facing these emotional challenges is incomprehensible. But somehow the author guides us through the last days of Tessa's life with an astonishing understanding from all perspectives.
This is a book that everyone should read. I won't give a reason: there are too many. But, whoever you are, make sure that you have a large box of tissues to hand.
I want to live before I die. It's the only thing that makes sense.
How long can I stave it off? I don't know. All I know is that I have two choices - stay wrapped in blankets and get on with dying, or get the list back together and get on with living.
'What will happen if anger takes you over Tessa? Who will you be then? What will be left of you?'
I feel a strange warmth filtering through me. I forget that my brain is full of every sad face at every window I've ever passed.
'You want some sweet and lovely things, Tessa, but be careful. Other people can't always give you what you want.'
I want to die in my own way. It's my illness, my death, my choice.
I want to be empty. I want to live somewhere uncluttered.