Plot and Synopsis

Tessa is diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Despite four years of chemotherapy, she has discovered that her cancer is terminal and her doctors give her a short time to live. Tessa, with the help of her best friend Zoey, comes up with a list of things she wants to do before she dies, including some risky behaviors that she deems necessary to have “lived”. Zoey is excited and supportive of the outrageous bucket list until an unplanned pregnancy test comes up positive.

Tessa’s parents are divorced and have very different views on her desire to experience the dangerous side of life before she passes. Her mother is loving and joking about the situation and seems supportive; however, she has not been present in Tessa’s treatments, nor involved in her life at a deep level. Tessa’s father is timid and just wants to spend time with his daughter. He is resistant to Tessa’s behavior from the start, but realizes he has little influence and can only enjoy the time they have left. Her father’s main mechanism for coping is denial. She mentions that he spends hours on the computer looking up possible treatments for her even after the doctors have told her that cancer has consumed her body.

Tessa’s brother, Cal, is a brutally honest individual who has mixed feelings throughout the novel ranging from lack of care to jealousy to sadness. In the beginning of the novel, Cal says to his sister “I’m gonna miss you” during a joking situation.

One of Tessa’s last wishes is to find love, of which she thinks she has with her neighbor Adam. Adam is shy, and his main priority is taking care of his sickly mother after his father died.

The book, written in first person from Tessa’s point of view, follows her last few months of life, explores her relationships with her loved ones, and her personal feelings about being trapped in a failing body.

Characters

Tessa Scott

16-year-old battling leukemia. Has a bucket list of things she wants to do before she dies, and makes Zoey and Adam help.

Cal Scott

Tessa’s 11-year-old younger brother is stuck in the position of jealousy of his sister’s attention and his sadness about her unavoidable death. Even in her last moments, Cal makes jokes such as “Bye, Tess. Haunt me if you like. I don’t mind.”

Zoey

Tessa’s best friend, who in the beginning of the novel is her biggest advocate for living on the wild side, until she becomes pregnant. Tessa says to Zoey on occasion “Are you telling me to?”, Zoey’s answer is always “yes”.

Adam

Tessa’s boyfriend and neighbor, who spends most of his time attending to his mother, who after the death of his father became depressed. Adam is there when Tessa takes her last breath and is the love of her short life.

Jake

The boy that Tessa met in the club and lost her virginity to.

Scott

The father of Zoey’s child and a good friend of Jake.

Tessa’s father

He is desperate to keep his daughter alive and has come to realize that he does not have a say in her actions and can only hope that she will come to her senses, often stressed out about what Tessa is doing but does not know what to do.

Tessa’s mother

She divorced from Tessa’s father before Tessa was diagnosed. She has not been present in her treatments and loves, nor involved in her life at a deep level.