Title: Before I Fall
Author: Lauren Oliver
Release date: October 2011
Genre: Fiction; young adult
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
What if you only had one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?
Dying is bad enough. But waking up again is even worse.
When Samantha Kingston closes her eyes, engulfed in flames of light and pain in a car accident, it is not for the last time. She wakes the next morning—and for six days after that—and relives the same day. The day of her death.
At first, she convinces herself that her death was just a terrible dream. Surrounded by her friends (the most popular girls at school) and her boyfriend (the cutest guy around), Sam feels confident that nothing has changed. Surely someone with so much left to experience, so many lessons to learn and a full, vibrant life to live, could not meet such a tragic end.
But as the days repeat themselves, she begins to look at her life with new eyes.
Sam Kingston is the girl you love to hate. She ignores her family, terrorizes the school outcast with her snobby friends, plans to sleep with her alarmingly insensitive boyfriend, and has a major, likely requited, crush on her math teacher. When another student finds out Sam cheated off of her chemistry quiz, the girl calls Sam a bitch… and then apologizes. Entering a party, Sam is relieved to feel all eyes on her. “That’s another nice thing about being popular,” she says candidly. “You don’t have to pay any attention to the people paying attention to you.”
Yet Lauren Oliver does the impossible with her main character: She makes her likeable. Despite yourself, you want to know what will happen to her. You begin rooting for her. On the surface, Sam seems shallow, but Oliver plunges into the depths of Sam’s hopes and fears to reveal a surprisingly vulnerable young woman verging on self-awareness:
When I was little I used to do this a lot: lock myself in the bathroom and take showers so hot the mirrors would cloud completely over, then stand there, watching as my face took shape slowly behind the steam, rough outlines at first, then details appearing gradually. Each time I’d think that when my face came back, I would see somebody beautiful, like during my shower I would have transformed into someone brighter and better. But I always looked the same.
Sam is a mean girl, sure, but she is also surprisingly like you or me.
Sam’s confrontation with her own mortality forces her to examine the way she has treated others, and the sacrifices she has made to get what she thought she wanted. Will Sam find the courage to stand up to loudmouthed Lindsey, her best friend and queen bee of their circle? Will she learn to value her well-meaning parents and adoring little sister? And will she dump her loser boyfriend and date the sweet, doe-eyed Kent McFuller, who has loved her since the sandboxes of their childhood?
Probably. But in the meantime, Sam’s transformations do not come easily. “How is it possible,” she wonders, “to change so much and not be able to change anything at all?” When she tries and fails to prevent her death, she rages in confusion and fear: “What’s the point? If I’m dead—if I can’t change anything, if I can’t fix it—what’s the point?”
The point, of course, is not that she avoid death. It is to discover a life worth living.
Oliver’s characters are not the only strength of the novel. Though the idea behind the book is a little Groundhog Day and more than a little dark, Oliver manages to tell a story that feels fresh and optimistic, full of hope and longing. Sam’s story–and the stories of those at the margins of her life whom she befriends in her final days–is enveloping and uplifting.
Before I Fall is ostensibly Young Adult, but it speaks to any woman about the tumult and joy of growing up and becoming the person she wants to be.
Quote of Note:
I read once that at the edge of a black hole, time stops completely, so if you ever sailed into it, you’d just be stuck there at the lip forever, forever being torn apart, forever dying.
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