If an author can make me teary-eyed over the fate of a mean girl, it’s usually a good sign. It took me a long time to know exactly what I wanted to say about Lauren Oliver’s “Before I Fall”, but one thing I can say for sure is that Oliver can write her socks off. She has such a wonderful, descriptive voice and wit that’s hard not to grow attached to, even if the character she writes about may not warrant the most sympathy.
More often than not, I wanted to throw the book at Sam Kingston, the main character of “Before I Fall”. She’s a young woman who seems to be on the top of the school’s food chain where no one can touch her, so basically that gives her license to do (and say) a lot of things that aren’t so…nice. (Though I’m surprised at just how many things Sam and her friends are able to get away with in the novel.)
At least until she dies and has to re-live the same day for seven days in a row, in somewhat of a Groundhog Day/Butterfly Effect/Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni scenario (well, not as bad as the latter series, but if you’ve seen that, you’ll know what I’m talking about).
Sam understandably freaks out when she realizes she’s living the same day and knows what will happen in certain predicaments, yet each time she tries to correct one thing, something else goes wrong, or in a way she doesn’t anticipate, leading her to new revelations about the situations and people around her. The way Oliver plays the vantage point of these discoveries is both compelling and engrossing. Sam goes through a realistic pinwheel of grief stages and self-discovery – reconnecting with her family, finding truths about the company she keeps and discovers the line between what she thinks she wants and what she needs. And even more jarring, she discovers how actions one may not think twice about can hurt the people around her.
The ending did me in – it was very well done in bringing full circle the weight of Sam’s realizations – how little time we have in this world, how the things we do can affect ours and other’s lives consequentially. Although it ended a bit quickly, it didn’t lose its potency with me, and it’s a novel that manages to take two familiar concepts and blend them together in an amazing way.
I think this is a wonderful novel for teens in terms of highlighting tough issues such as bullying and taking responsibility for your actions, though I’ll admit that some of the scenes themselves can be blunt in points (language, some sexual situations and drug use).
Overall score: 4/5