As hard as I try, I keep gravitating to all these admittedly depressing books. This one, though, is so totally worth the sweat and tears (there was no blood, promise) to get through it.

Speed Read:

Pretty much all you need to know is this: Tessa has cancer and it’s getting worse. She comes up with a list of things she wants to do before she dies. Have sex. Do drugs. Say yes to absolutely everything for a day. But there are several things she didn’t bargain for. She didn’t think her mother would come back into their lives like she does. She didn’t think her best friend would get into the trouble that she does. And she didn’t know she would start talking to the boy next door.

The Deal:

This may be one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. I really wish I’d gotten this one on my kindle, so I didn’t have to keep flipping through the entire book to find the sections I want to read again. Reading this work is like reading song or poetry, but in book form and seemingly never ending. Gorgeous and strange and strong:

“Indoors they’ll be dealing out the cards and passing round the peanuts, but out here, each blade of grass glistens, spiked by frost. Out here, the sky’s packed full of stars, like something from a fairy-tale. Even the moon looks stunned.

I squash windfalls under my boots on my way to the apple tree. I touch the twists in the trunk, trying to feel its bruised slate colour through my fingers. A few leaves hang damply in the branches. A handful of withered apples turn to rust.

Cal says that humans are made from the nuclear ash of dead stars. He say that when I die, I’ll return to dust, glitter, rain. If that’s true, I want to be buried right here under this tree. Its roots will reach into the soft mess of my body and suck me dry. I’ll be reformed as apple blossom. I’ll drift down in the spring like confetti and cling to my family’s shoes. They’ll carry me in their pockets, scatter the subtle silk of me across their pillows to help them sleep. What dreams will they have then?”

See? Lovely. And the story itself is so well done, so tragic and real. I’ve read a lot of deathy books, and this definitely ranks among the best. Bonus: Jenny Downham is coming out with another book in September!

How Far Should You Go:

Everything. Spend years writing an epic poem, donate all of your money to St. Jude’s, sit in a room by yourself for a while and think about the truly true meaning of life, no matter how hard it may be. Confront your fears head on. This book will be waiting for you on the other side.

The 13/16 Test:

Sixteen’s totally fine. I’m betting she’ll read it! Thirteen…next year, for sure. She probably could read it now, but I think she’ll get more out of it if she waits a little longer.

The Low Down:

Before I Die
Author: Jenny Downham
Publisher: Ember
Published: May 26th, 2009
Classified as: Young Adult