10 Things to Do Before I Die

10 Things to Do Before I Die

4.2 16
by Daniel Ehrenhaft
     
 

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1) Lose my virginity

2) Apologize to Rachel

3) Get back at Biff

4) Jam and party with Shakes the Clown

5) Laugh in death’s face

6) Go to Africa

7) Rob a bank

8) Tell Mark to screw himself

9) Find out why Grandpa and Dad don't talk

10) Tell the truth

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Overview

1) Lose my virginity

2) Apologize to Rachel

3) Get back at Biff

4) Jam and party with Shakes the Clown

5) Laugh in death’s face

6) Go to Africa

7) Rob a bank

8) Tell Mark to screw himself

9) Find out why Grandpa and Dad don't talk

10) Tell the truth

Editorial Reviews

VOYA
Seventeen-year-old Ted Burger is convinced that he is dying. He is so convinced that he and his friends are on a mission to complete the ten things he wants to do before he dies. It began as a list of things to do over spring break, but after he suspects that his French fries have been poisoned, the list becomes far more important in light of his imminent demise. Several items involve a punk rock band called Shakes the Clown, of which Ted is a rabid fan. As Ted races around the city attempting to accomplish his To Do list, he learns some lessons about life, including that idol worship is not all it is cracked up to be, that friends are not always who you believe they are, and that revenge is not always sweet. This book wants to be a chatty, funny, fast-paced look at life and death. Unfortunately it tries too hard to be all of those things. The reader never really cares about any of the characters because even though life lessons are pitched at them left and right, they never seem to catch them. The implausible plot is filled with frantic trips to the airport, limo rides from the Bronx, and a coffee-table-dancing prostitute. This book does not have that spark that will draw readers in and keep them reading. VOYA CODES: 2Q 3P S (Better editing or work by the author might have warranted a 3Q; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Delacorte, 224p., and Ages 15 to 18.
—Lynn Evarts
Children's Literature
Sixteen-year-old Ted is doing his usual thing: hanging out at the local burger joint with his friends Mark and Nikki. Talk turns to spring break, which has just started that day. When his friends find out that Ted has no real plans for the time off from school, they decide to help their friend out by compiling a list of things he needs to do. Later, when the trio determine that Ted has been poisoned by a disgruntled, dismissed fry cook, the list becomes even more important to them. With an estimated 24 hours left to live, Ted is supposed to accomplish all the things on his remarkable list, including jamming and partying with his favorite band, losing his virginity, and getting something named after him. How Ted and his friends attempt to accomplish the things on the list—and what they learn about themselves and each other in the process—makes for a fantastic whirlwind of a story. 2004, Delacorte/Random House, Ages 12 to 16.
—Heidi Hauser Green
KLIATT
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, November 2004: "Have you ever really lived, Burger?" Ted Burger's best friend Mark asks him. Ted has never taken any risks in his life, but Mark proposes that he act as if the upcoming spring break is his last time on Earth, and together with Mark's girlfriend Nikki, on whom Ted has a secret crush, they make up a list of what the 16-year-old New Yorker might accomplish. For instance: "1. Lose virginity..." Other items include partying with his favorite band, Shakes the Clown, robbing a bank, and doing something heroic. It all sounds like silly fun until Ted hears that a fry cook with a grudge has poisoned his French fries--and it seems that he really only has a short time to live (of course, that's not exactly true, in the end). So naturally, he sets out to do what he can from his list. A great premise, if somewhat hard to believe, and Ted's self-deprecating narration is funny and authentic-sounding. It's a bit racy but not terribly raunchy, and lively fun to read, with a clear message about learning to discover oneself, reach out to others, and seize the day. KLIATT Codes: S--Recommended for senior high school students. 2004, Random House, Delacorte, 219p., $7.95.. Ages 15 to 18.
—Paula Rohrlick
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-Ted Burger's friends Mark and Nikki counsel the protagonist to step outside his usual pattern of cautious behavior as they consume their usual after-school fare at a Manhattan diner. Suddenly, a recently fired fry cook bursts in and threatens mayhem-with what turns out to be a water pistol. Mark takes quick and effective control of the situation while Burger watches and feels himself getting physically sick. No sooner does he get home than he is told that the crazed cook has poisoned him and he has just 24 hours to live. Rather than seeking medical attention, he decides to tackle the list of adventures his friends have devised for him, including liberal doses of alcohol and sex, taking on a bully from his past, and partying with the punk-rock band he worships. As the hours pass, and his nausea waxes and wanes, Burger begins to make plans of his own-an escape from the city to Africa. Instead, he wakes up in a Brooklyn hospital, diagnosed as suffering from panic disorder, rather than food poisoning. While all of the characters are engaging and likable, Ehrenhaft's plotting feels erratic. The buildup to the poisoning is long in coming while Burger's numerous escapades all get packed into about eight hours. The moral and ethical issues come fast and furious-the old bully is now in a wheelchair and saintly, the punk rockers are bored with themselves, Burger's shallow parents ultimately seek depth in their son. There are several great scenarios here, but the stitches needed to gather them into one story don't bear up to even casual scrutiny.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Ted Burger, 16 and with "Brillo pad hair," has always played it safe, choosing to experience the wilder sides of teenage-boydom vicariously through his bonkers best friend, Mark. But when he discovers he's been poisoned by a lunatic diner chef and has only 24 hours to live, he enlists the help of Mark and his girlfriend Nikki to dash off a list of brilliantly hair-brained activities he must accomplish before he dies. The trio then embarks on a dizzying New York City roller-coaster ride of booze, rock-and-roll concerts, drunken taxi rides, and a credit-card-stealing prostitute. Believable? Not exactly. Fun? Totally. Ehrenhaft's keen characterizations and teen-speak dialogues ring true, and with so many fabulously taboo plot twists, one would think this could be his one-two punch to Quick Pick stardom. But somehow he caps this shameless and entertaining whirlwind race against time with a syrupy, half-baked, and predictable ending guaranteed to piss off and/or disappoint every teen reader who for 200 pages succumbed to and believed in Ted's full-throttle quest for complete spontaneity. (Fiction. YA)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385730075
Publisher:
Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
11/09/2004
Pages:
224
Product dimensions:
5.75(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.79(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Prologue: The Story of My Death
My name is Ted Burger. I am sixteen years old. I am an only child. I live in New York City.

I will not live to see seventeen.

What else? Let’s see. . . . My voice is pretty deep but it squeaks sometimes, like an old rusty bicycle. I have curly brown hair. “Brillo pad hair,” in my best friend Mark’s words. I am tall and skinny. My fingers are, too. They look like twigs. “Musician’s fingers,” says my guitar teacher, Mr. Puccini. (Translation: “Girlie fingers.”) I’m good at blowing stuff off. I have a hard time admitting certain things to myself. According to my parents, I have a “nutty, Borscht Belt sense of humor!” (I include the exclamation point because they tend to speak at a high-pitched volume.) What they mean is that I’m a third-rate clown, but they aren’t really ones to talk.

This is the story of my death.

It starts the way all my stories do, as a bad joke whose tragic punch line somehow ends up signifying my whole life. Or death, in this case. Ha! Ha . . . ha . . . okay, maybe my parents are right. Maybe I am a clown. I don’t have the greatest comic timing. I rarely instigate–bad things simply happen to me. Pie-in-the-face sorts of things. But don’t just take my word for it. Consider the fortune I received on my sixteenth birthday (ironically, my last birthday ever, although I didn’t know it at the time) when my parents took me to the Hong Phat Noodle House–and I swear I am not making this up:

You will never have much of a future if you look for it in a cookie at a Chinese Restaurant. J

My mom’s fortune promised a lifetime of infinite happiness. My dad’s, a lifetime of wealth and fulfillment. When I complained to the waiter about mine, he told me that I should be pleased. “It’s true, young man,” he said with a smile. “One should never look for one’s destiny in a dessert item. One should look for it in experience.”

I agreed, sure–but deep down, I still felt sort of gypped. I asked for another one. He refused. Hong Phat policy is one fortune cookie per customer, period.

The real punch line is that I don’t even like Chinese food all that much. I like french fries. But my parents forced me to go there because they said that I needed to learn how to use chopsticks. “It’s a skill that will make you part of an important demographic, dear!” Mom insisted. That’s a direct quote. To this day, I have no idea what she means. (I never learned how to use chopsticks, either.) My parents work together at the same advertising firm, so they talk a lot about stuff like “important demographics!” It’s pretty much all they talk about. Maybe one day I will understand their baffling pronouncements. I would if I weren’t doomed to an early grave, that is.

Speaking of which, the story of my death also starts at a restaurant. It starts at the Circle Eat Diner with Mark and his girlfriend, Nikki. I can’t imagine it starting any other way. Everything starts at the Circle Eat Diner with Mark and Nikki, at least everything that matters . . . everything that happens during those sublime, BS-filled hours when the three of us laugh and rant and eat, the hours just after school and before I have to run back home to Mom and Dad.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. I rarely have to run home to Mom and Dad. They aren’t around very often. They take a lot of business trips. All of which is a long way of saying that I spend more time hanging out at the Circle Eat Diner with Mark and Nikki than I probably should.

Much more.

You’ll see what I mean shortly. The story of my death has a very dramatic, pie-in-the-face beginning.

A Very Active Inner Life
Spring break has just started. No classes for a whole week! Woo-hoo! It’s one of those rare gorgeous afternoons in Manhattan when the sky is swimming-pool blue and the breeze is crisp. There’s no humidity at all.

Freedom! the day seems to shout. Rock and roll!

Well, the day might seem to shout that if I were outside. Inside the Circle Eat Diner, the day doesn’t seem to shout anything. It stinks of grease. The three of us are huddled over the remnants of a burger, fries, and pickle. We pretty much order the same meal every time: Circle Eat #5, the Burger/Fries Combo. I eat the fries. Mark eats the burger. Nikki eats the pickle. The way Mark and Nikki are slouched across from me in the booth, they look more like a pair of models than a real-life couple–rail thin, dark, unblemished . . . poster children for the wonders of the #5 diet.

Mark’s brown hair is a mess. His ratty T-shirt bears the logo give this dawg a bone. His brown eyes are wild. They’re always wild. This stems from a belief he’s had since he was a little kid that something bizarre and miraculous could occur at any moment–a giant-squid attack, the Rapture–and when it does, it will require his personal involvement in some way. So he’s perpetually on guard.

I envy him for this. I always have. He’s never bored.

Nikki is hardly ever bored, either, but for less delusional reasons. She’s got a very active inner life. This I can relate to. She’s constantly turning everything over in her mind–every event and conversation, no matter how trivial–and milking it for its hidden wisdom. You can tell from the way she listens, from the way she looks you in the eye . . . you can even tell from how she dresses: mostly in black. With Nikki, blackness doesn’t have an agenda. She isn’t trying to play the role of a misunderstood hipster or a sullen goth. She isn’t trying to fit in with any crowd, either. (To be honest, the three of us don’t really belong to any crowd. Not unless you include the other people who hang out in the Circle Eat Diner all the time, like Old Meatloaf Lady and Guy with Crumbs in His Beard.) Nikki just doesn’t put a whole lot of thought into her wardrobe. She’s got too much else going on inside. Once she told me that the only reason she dresses in black is so her clothes will match her hair. I loved that.

Her eyes are what really tell the story, though. They’re like onyx, calm to the point of being alien: the eyes of the extra­terrestrials you see in UFO documentaries. They radiate that same mysterious, hypnotic “we-come-in-peace” vibe, even when she’s joking around or scheming.

Funny: I probably think more than Nikki does about the way she looks. Ha! Not that I’d ever admit that to her. I definitely wouldn’t admit it to Mark. I have a hard enough time admitting it to myself.

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