Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver


Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (480 pgs)
Age: 16+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Cactus

For popular high school senior Samantha Kingston, February 12—”Cupid Day”—should be one big party, a day of valentines and roses and the privileges that come with being at the top of the social pyramid. And it is…until she dies in a terrible accident that night.

However, she still wakes up the next morning. In fact, Sam lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she ever imagined.

What if you could fix your mistakes? Samantha Kingston gets that chance. A high school senior, Sam is a popular girl. She’s also a mean girl. On Friday February 12th, she goes to school like any other day and ends up dying that night after a party; except she wakes up the next morning only to do it all over again. Sam soon realizes that she must change her mean girl ways to stop the never-ending cycle of Friday the 12th. However that realization is easier said than done and it’s not always easy to stop the tide of peer pressure and selfishness most teens are inflicted with. Sam’s determined to try though and become a better person, if for no other reason than to move on from that single repetitive day.

Before I Fall is Lauren Oliver’s debut novel. I’ve read almost everything else Oliver has written but didn’t realize this was her first novel. Initially I was really unimpressed. I figured the story was basically a Groundhog Day retread where the mean, bitchy teen must learn to be a better person to move on. And it’s basically that in a nutshell. What makes the story really stand out is the superior characterization and effective writing. Although the plot is somewhat basic – the day is played out over and over as Sam learns the consequences of her casual cruelty and mean girl ways – the characters really shine in their complexity. It’s a testament to the author that she manages to show the complicated nature of teenagers without alienating readers given how unlikable the main characters are.

Sam really is a mean girl. She’s a weak willed follower, happy and confident in her popularity and inflicts countless sources of cruelty on those around her. She’s self absorbed, selfish, not the most intelligent, and believes that her popularity somehow makes her a more worthwhile person than those that aren’t as popular. Her narcissistic and self-entitled view of the world is reinforced in her rationalizations for nearly the entire book. She is not a likable character. However the author takes pains to show that she’s just a teenager, complicated, flawed but capable of change. This is where the story shines. It takes four teenagers (really just Sam and Lindsey are the important characters) and shows how they can potentially change. At the same time it allows the reader to really reflect on the flaws within each person and how our own selfishness is reflected in minor cruelties we don’t even notice.

I’m not a fan of preaching books. I don’t want to be lectured at while reading a book. That’s the real genius of this book. It allows introspective contemplation about the nature of people, all people both good and bad, and how that relates to us as individuals. Sam can’t even begin to atone for all her mistakes and past problems within the span of seven repeat days but she learns why her actions were not acceptable and she truly wants to change by the end. The progression and growth is stunning and well worth following. Additionally I listened to the audio book and the narration is phenomenal. I highly recommend the audio version and I was overall happily surprised that this book was that good. It’s not perfect and the main narrators are tough to sympathize with but it’s really about the development and progression. It’s a lesson that humanity is flawed and people’s motivations are always more complicated than they seem. It’s not an excuse for poor behavior but a reflection of everyone’s own demons.

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