I am so, so glad I did.
In fact, I kinda hope that TFIOS garners even more accolades, so that people may rediscover this book (and hopefully the movie that goes along) and love it as much as I do.
(It's similar to TFIOS in the same way chips is similar to a potato dauphinoise - it has the same main ingredient, but the prep and delivery are widely different. Also, one is more pretentious than the other. Still...)
The story is your typical "bucket list" tale - 16-year-old Tess' doctors have declared her terminal after years of her battling cancer. Her father is trying his best to be optimistic and find alternative solutions, but Tess knows better - she knows she's going to die, so why get the most out of life and do 10 things she's never done before? Stuff goes wrong, then it goes right, lessons are learnt, Tess falls in love, and gets her estranged parents together (sort of) and so on, and so forth.
I went on GR hoping to find my old review, so that I could leave a link here and talk to you about what I got from the re-read...
BUUUUT all I found was a note saying I cried my eyes out. Which just goes to show I really was NOT ready to talk about this book three years ago.
Because whether we like it or not, our perspective on a book will change as we grow older and gain more experience. In this case, my own experiences with dealing with sickness and depression have changed me a lot... and have made me appreciate this book a lot more for what it is.
See, Tess is depressed. Not just in a vague way, I mean seriously, gravely, the-world-sucks-and-I-suck-and-there-is-nothing-good-about-life-so-why-bother way. She alternates between bouts of energy and listlessness, she cares deeply for her family and friends, but shuts down often, she thinks of herself as worthless and miserable and often lets her sadness take the best of her...
And I love it because it rings true for me, and the text handles things beautifully. When Tess latches onto her bucket list as a means to extract some meaning from life, her friends and family indulge her to an extent, but each and every last one of them has a moment where they go: "No, stop, this is not right, and I won't help you in this." And they do it because they realize that, in the words of Dianna Wayne Jones, "A tantrum is rarely about the thing it is about."
Tess is throwing a tantrum, for very good reasons, but the book showcases what is, in my opinion, a healthy attitude towards them. Yes, she's allowed to be sad and miserable, and yes, her loved ones let her have some things she wants, but all is within reasonable boundaries and they do set their boundaries clearly.
Following on the theme of the other characters, one I'd like to talk about particularly is Tess' father (I know in YA we tend to focus on the love interest, but Adam is perfect, so there!) Mr. Scott is his daughter's main caretaker, after his wife left the family, and he's, in some ways, very much the overbearing parent. However, rather than make him a caricature (Fangirl, I'm looking at you right now!) he's portrayed as, again, in my opinion, a parent who's been caring for a sick child for years.
One of the most difficult things for parents, and adults in general, is admitting that we are wrong, or that we don't have all the answers. And Mr. Scott, faced with the reality of Tess' illness, is equal parts in denial and in depression. His interactions with his daughter are, indeed, the most poignant moments of the book, and lend him a humanity which I'm sad to say I have not encountered in parents in books for a long, long time.
Before I Die is not what you'd call a cheery read, but it's cathartic. And I'm glad I rediscovered it.
Note: Image from BookLikes.