By Darcy Maule
The books that I have chosen for my III form book report are Before I Die by Jenny Downham and How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. The book I preferred is most definitely Before I Die because I related to the book more than How I Live Now. I chose these books because they seemed to have good storylines that appealed to me. How I Live Now is about a girl called Elizabeth who calls herself Daisy who moves to England from New York City to live with her dead mother’s sister and cousins. A war breaks out in England while the aunt is stuck in Oslo and the children are separated by gender. Daisy then escapes with her younger cousin Piper to find the other family members including her cousin Edmund who she has fallen in love with.
Before I Die is about a girl who is 16 called Tessa who suffers with leukaemia. The doctors said to Tessa “I’d encourage you to do the things you want to do.” Tessa takes that quite literally and makes up a bucket list of things she wants to do before she dies with help from her best friend Zoey. Tessa’s parents are divorced so she lives with her loving Dad and her honest little brother Cal. Tessa’s dad is stuck in denial about her illness and just wants to spend time with her while her mother is very supportive about her list. Tessa’s main point on her list is to fall in love which happens when she encounters her neighbour Adam.
Tessa is easy to relate to even though she suffers with a terminal illness she still wants to do all these things on her list that anyone else would want to do before they die. What makes Tessa different is that she has a time limit to do all these things. Tessa can be quite stubborn at times like when she doesn’t want to keep doing the list, her friend Zoey has to motivate her to do things. Although she can also have bursts of fearlessness, for example when one of the things on her list was to say yes to everything for a day, a homeless man tells her to jump into a muddy river, she does it knowing it would affect her health and ends up in the hospital as a result.
Tessa is also undeniably a fighter and is very strong as she has gone through 4 years of chemotherapy and there was a flashback in the book when she almost died in the hospital and everyone thought she was gone but she came back fighting again. I like the way Tessa thinks in the book (as it’s in the first person narrative) because she focuses in on little details that you wouldn’t normally find in many books like how they change the paintings in the hospital a lot and she examines them all in detail. I find it an interesting approach and you really get into Tessa’s mind. I really like Tessa and I think that I would be friends with her if I knew her as she’s fun and not scared to take risks. I could see Tessa living in the outside world away from this book because she comes across just like a normal teenage girl.
Daisy from How I Live Now is a lot different from Tessa. Daisy is anorexic which is a self-inflicted illness while Tessa has an illness that she doesn’t have a say in. The two books were written very differently. How I Live Now was written with a different use of punctuation so there was little to no dialogue. The book was written more about what was going through Daisy’s mind. Daisy is humorous and her thoughts almost seemed loud as if they were being shouted as I read the book as sometimes she capitalized words which made the text come alive. However, I found that without the use of speech marks and little dialogue that I didn’t really connect with the other characters and I didn’t feel much emotion towards them as I only saw them from Daisy’s perspective, like her step-mother whom Daisy hated. I found the storyline a bit unrealistic as it was set during a war that Daisy never went into much detail about so I never really got a good view of what was going on in the outside world and what the cause of the war was.
The setting wasn’t very important in Before I Die as it was set in 21st century in England and the main plot of the story revolves around Tessa’s cancer not where they are living. However in How I Live Now it is much more important because if there wasn’t a war in England, Daisy’s aunt might not have gotten stuck in Oslo and they wouldn’t have been forced to leave their homes.
The first sentence of Before I Die is “I wish I had a boyfriend.” Which I think is a good choice for a first line because you want to know more about this single girl and why she wants a boyfriend and all about her love life. It really grips you from the start when she describes little details and a typical Saturday night in her house like “I can smell sausages. Saturday night is always sausages. There'll be mash and cabbage and onion gravy too.” because it makes you feel like you want to know more about this girl’s life.
The opening sentence from How I Live Now is “My name is Elizabeth but no one’s ever called me that.” I think that this is also a good opening sentence as it introduces the character and also gives a little fact about her. This suggests that she wants the reader to know about who she is before they read the book. I wouldn’t say the beginning is as gripping as Before I Die as it just goes over background information rather than any detailing and feelings.
There were a few moments in Before I Die that were very important to the plot. One was when the doctor told Tessa after they received results from a test, that she has “moved further along the line” which motivated Tessa to keep doing the things on her list. Maybe if they hadn’t told her this she might have thought she had a lot longer than she actually had and wouldn’t be motivated to do all the things she wanted to do. Another moment was when Tessa’s best friend Zoey told Tessa that she was pregnant. This gave Tessa more motivation to keep staying strong until May which was when the baby would be born. Tessa was determined to see the baby’s face, but she never did.
The ending of Before I Die is my favourite part of the book. It’s unique and I’ve never read anything like it. Tessa is slowly dying at the end of the book and is slipping in and out of consciousness. The last chapter is things Tessa hears around her sick bed and what she thinks. All the thoughts have large spaces in between and it makes you feel like you are Tessa drifting in and out of consciousness. It gives you a strange feeling and a question Is this what dying feels like? Tessa’s last thoughts are “Moments. All gathering towards this one.” At that point in the book I had teared up a bit. It was such a strange feeling to read that and it’s something in a book you would never forget.
I did not however like the ending of How I Live Now as I thought it wasn’t satisfying and kind of confusing. It is a few years later and Daisy comes back “home” to her cousin’s house but Edmund who she fell in love with is mentally scarred from the war. My preferred ending is definitely Before I Die and it is one of my favourite endings ever.
These two books do have a similar theme; love. In How I Live Now, Piper and Daisy are trying to make their way back to their family because of love. Love is what keeps them going even when they are starving, they don’t give up. It is also Daisy’s love for her cousins that brings her back to England. Daisy also experiences a different kind of love with Edmund, a romantic one which Before I Die also has. In Before I Die, Tessa falls in love with Adam but she also loves her family who are with her the whole way through to the end. Both are tragic love stories in a way, Edmund as a result is mentally scarred which is hard for Daisy to overcome and Tessa dies which is tragic for both her family, Adam and Zoey. They both have sad elements of love but both are mixed with happy unforgettable moments.
My overall opinion of Before I Die is a really good read. I would recommend it to everyone because I feel like you get really attached to these characters and they grow on you emotionally and the ending is a brilliant way to end a book as it was so creative and unique. Also the characters are realistic and easy to relate to which makes the book more complete and I certainly wondered what would happen after the book.
My opinion of How I Live Now is not as positive as Before I Die because I didn’t connect with the characters and I found them unrealistic because of the way they had special powers like how Isaac (one of the cousins) could talk to animals. It was interesting, but I found the storyline confusing but I did like the determination that Piper and Daisy had to get back to their family. I would read Before I Die again but most likely wouldn’t re-read How I Live Now. However I did enjoy the challenge of reading a few books and I also enjoyed reading them.