Yeah, yeah, yeah, we get it. You’re in love with Augustus Waters, and for all intents and purposes you should be. I mean who doesn’t want to meet someone who says things like, “It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you.” Swoon!
But more than just Gus and his metaphorical cigarette sweeping us off our collective feet, what made John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars so fantastic was its humor, its intelligence and its heart. In the end, no matter how gut-wrenching The Fault in Our Stars can be (and wrench the gut it will), it’s ultimately a story about love and hope.
Enter Jenny Downham’s 2007 sleeper Before I Die.
Before I Die tells the story of Tessa, a 16-year-old girl with terminal cancer, who decides to complete her bucket list, with items such as spending an entire day saying “YES” to everything, as well as committing a crime.
Like The Fault in Our Stars, Before I Die is ultimately life-affirming, but the journey it takes the reader on is absolutely raw. Tessa rails against her fate. She’s at times petulant, mean-spirited, and even selfish. Her best friend Zoey is even worse. And our romantic leading man, Adam, is no Gus Waters. In the end, though, that’s what makes Before I Die such an amazing and powerful book, and let's face it, gives The Fault in Our Stars a run for its money: It’s real; agonizingly real, and throughout it all there’s Downham’s writing, which can only be described as pure poetics. Here’s Downham describing Tessa burning two shoeboxes full of her mementos:
“From the day I noticed the first bruise on my spine, to the day only two months ago when the hospital officially gave up on me, I kept a diary. Four years of pathetic optimism burns well – look at it flare! All the get-well cards I ever received curl at the edges, crisp right up and flake to nothing. Over four long years you forget people’s names.
There was a nurse who used to draw cartoons of the doctors and put them by the bed to make me laugh. I can’t remember her name either. Was it Louise? She was quite prolific. The fire spits, embers spark away into the trees.
‘I’m unburdening myself,’ I tell Adam.”
But don’t take my word for it (or Downham’s). Here’s a review of the book by Jen Hubert Swan over at the fantastic blog Reading Rants!