Tessa is 16 years old and dying. In this her first novel, Downham tells the story of how a teenager faces a terminal diagnosis, making a list of things she is resolved to do before she dies. Her list includes losing her virginity, shoplifting, taking drugs and being famous. Tessa’s plans involve the people surrounding her, her mother and father, her younger brother, her best friend and her boyfriend.
Tessa adopts her targets because she desires a relatively cold-blooded, cerebral plan of campaign to fill her last months. She finds however that the pursuit of these goals deepens and adds poignancy to her relationships with those around her. Eventually Tessa comes to see that even her impending death does not justify her in a course of total self-absorption. She cannot escape her emotions.
Downham adds immediacy to the narrative by using the first person throughout. The reader must accompany Tessa on her final journey, following more closely than is comfortable. Downham also makes sure we see Tessa’s shortcomings. Most readers, even young readers, will find themselves weighing their own lives and eventual deaths in the balance as Tessa contemplates hers.
Issues of life and death are not the easiest to handle in books for teenage readers. With only occasional unconvincing moments, Downham succeeds.