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3 Burnside Children's Young Adult- General

Before I Die: A Novel


Before I Die: A Novel Cover

ISBN13: 9780385751551
ISBN10: 0385751559
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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I wish I had a boyfriend. I wish he lived in the wardrobe on a coat hanger. Whenever I wanted, I could get him out and hed look at me the way boys do in films, as if Im beautiful. He wouldnt speak much, but hed be breathing hard as he took off his leather jacket and unbuckled his jeans. Hed wear white pants and hed be so gorgeous Id almost faint. Hed take my clothes off too. Hed whisper, ‘Tessa, I love you. I really bloody love you. Youre beautiful - exactly those words - as he undressed me.

I sit up and switch on the bedside light. Theres a pen, but no paper, so on the wall behind me I write, I want to feel the weight of a boy on top of me. Then I lie back down and look out at the sky. Its gone a funny colour - red and charcoal all at once, like the day is bleeding out.

I can smell sausages. Saturday night is always sausages. Therell be mash and cabbage and onion gravy too. Dadll have the lottery ticket and Cal will have chosen the numbers and theyll sit in front of the TV and eat dinner from trays on their laps. Theyll watch The X Factor, then theyll watch Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? After that, Cal will have a bath and go to bed and Dadll drink beer and smoke until its late enough for him to sleep.

He came up to see me earlier. He walked over to the window and opened the curtains. ‘Look at that! he said as light flooded the room. There was the afternoon, the tops of the trees, the sky. He stood silhouetted against the window, his hands on his hips. He looked like a Power Ranger.

‘If you wont talk about it, how can I help you? he said, and he came over and sat on the edge of my bed. I held my breath. If you do it for long enough, white lights dance in front of your eyes. He reached over and stroked my head, his fingers gently massaging my scalp.

‘Breathe, Tessa, he whispered.

Instead, I grabbed my hat from the bedside table and yanked it on right over my eyes. He went away then.

Now hes downstairs frying sausages. I can hear the fat spitting, the slosh of gravy in the pan. Im not sure I should be able to hear that from all the way upstairs, but nothing surprises me any more. I can hear Cal unzipping his coat now, back from buying mustard. Ten minutes ago he was given a pound and told, ‘Dont talk to anyone weird. While he was gone, Dad stood on the back step and smoked a fag. I could hear the whisper of leaves hitting the grass at his feet. Autumn invading.

‘Hang your coat up and go and see if Tess wants anything, Dad says. ‘Theres plenty of blackberries. Make them sound interesting.

Cal has his trainers on; the air in the soles sighs as he leaps up the stairs and through my bedroom door. I pretend to be asleep, which doesnt stop him. He leans right over and whispers, ‘I dont care even if you never speak to me again. I open one eye and find two blue ones. ‘Knew you were faking, he says, and he grins wide and lovely. ‘Dad says, do you want blackberries?


‘What shall I tell him?

‘Tell him I want a baby elephant.

He laughs. ‘Im gonna miss you, he says, and he leaves me with an open door and the draught from the stairs.


Zoey doesnt even knock, just comes in and plonks herself down on the end of the bed. She looks at me strangely, as if she hadnt expected to find me here.

‘Whatre you doing? she says.


‘Dont you go downstairs any more?

‘Did my dad phone you up?

‘Are you in pain?


She gives me a suspicious look, then stands up and takes off her coat. Shes wearing a very short red dress. It matches the handbag shes dumped on my floor.

‘Are you going out? I ask her. ‘Have you got a date?

She shrugs, goes over to the window and looks down at the garden. She circles a finger on the glass, then she says, ‘Maybe you should try and believe in God.

‘Should I?

‘Yeah, maybe we all should. The whole human race.

‘I dont think so. I think he might be dead.

She turns round to look at me. Her face is pale, like winter. Behind her shoulder, an aeroplane winks its way across the sky.

She says, ‘Whats that youve written on the wall?

I dont know why I let her read it. I guess I want something to happen. Its in black ink. With Zoey looking, all the words writhe like spiders. She reads it over and over. I hate it how sorry she can be for me.

She speaks very softly. ‘Its not exactly Disneyland, is it?

‘Did I say it was?

‘I thought that was the idea.

‘Not mine.

‘I think your dads expecting you to ask for a pony, not a boyfriend.

Its amazing, the sound of us laughing. Even though it hurts, I love it. Laughing with Zoey is absolutely one of my favourite things, because I know weve both got the same stupid pictures in our heads. She only has to say, ‘Maybe a stud farm might be the answer, and were both in hysterics.

Zoey says, ‘Are you crying?

Im not sure. I think I am. I sound like those women on the telly when their entire family gets wiped out. I sound like an animal gnawing its own foot off. Everything just floods in all at once - like how my fingers are just bones and my skin is practically see-through. Inside my left lung I can feel cells multiplying, stacking up, like ash slowly filling a vase. Soon I wont be able to breathe.

‘Its OK if youre afraid, Zoey says.

‘Its not.

‘Of course it is. Whatever you feel is fine.

‘Imagine it, Zoey - being terrified all the time.

‘I can.

But she cant. How can she possibly, when she has her whole life left? I hide under my hat again, just for a bit, because Im going to miss breathing. And talking. And windows. Im going to miss cake. And fish. I like fish. I like their little mouths going, open, shut, open.

And where Im going, you cant take anything with you.

Zoey watches me wipe my eyes with the corner of the duvet.

‘Do it with me, I say.

She looks startled. ‘Do what?

‘Its on bits of paper everywhere. Ill write it out properly and you can make me do it.

‘Make you do what? The thing you wrote on the wall?

‘Other stuff too, but the boy thing first. Youve had sex loads of times, Zoey, and Ive never even been kissed.

I watch my words fall into her. They land somewhere very deep.

‘Not loads of times, she says eventually.

‘Please, Zoey. Even if I beg you not to, even if Im horrible to you, you must make me do it. Ive got a whole long list of things I want to do.

When she says, ‘OK, she makes it sound easy, as if I only asked her to visit me more often.

‘You mean it?

‘I said so, didnt I?

I wonder if she knows what shes letting herself in for.

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joran14rocks, October 16, 2008 (view all comments by joran14rocks)
I loved this book it really did show you how lucky you are just to be a healthy person. she really gets in your head and it is ashame that I could not meat her. i think we would have been grate friends. I am glad that Zoey decided to keep her baby.
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Product Details

Downham, Jenny
David Fickling Books
Social Issues - Death & Dying
Terminally ill
Teenage girls
Situations / Death & Dying
Edition Description:
Publication Date:
September 2007
Grade Level:
from 9
8.68x5.78x1.12 in. .97 lbs.
Age Level:

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Related Subjects

Young Adult » Fiction » Social Issues » Death and Dying
Young Adult » General

Before I Die: A Novel Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.50 In Stock
Product details 336 pages David Fickling Books - English 9780385751551 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Before I Die gutted me as no work of art has done in recent memory....Even as Downham plunges into unabashedly sentimental territory...Tessa's plight never turns gloopy or cloying. In luminous prose that rings completely true, Downham earns every tear she wrings from her readers. (Grade: A-)"
"Review" by , "[W]renching....Because her experience feels so palpable, readers will believe that the novel's final pages might offer a crystalline vision of death. Lucid language makes a painful journey bearable, beautiful and transcendent."
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