Goodreads: Before I Fall
Summary: After Samantha Kingston dies in a car accident, she wakes up to find herself reliving the day of her death over and over again. Sometimes things happen close to how they happened the first time it was February 12. Sometimes Sam makes choices that cause them to turn out differently. To escape the cycle, she must figure out which choices are the right ones, what she was supposed to do on February 12.
Review: There are some excerpts from this book that are quite beautiful—the quote on the cover, for instance, and most of the prologue. These small pieces of the story drew me in from the very beginning because they were poignant, profound. I quickly discovered they were the exception rather than the rule.
Samantha Kingston is a highly unpleasant person. She is popular, and she is someone’s worst nightmare of a mean girl. She calls people names, starts rumors, flirts with her teacher, sneaks out of school, dresses in clothing that barely covers her body. She parties, smokes, and drinks, and only feels a little bit bad about sending people horrible notes and dumping beer on their heads. In short, I could hardly believe this girl was the protagonist. She is downright nasty, and at the end of the first chapter, she defends it: “Is what I did really so much worse than what anybody else does?” she asks. “Is it really so much worse than what you’d do? Think about it.”
Yes, actually, it is. It is much worse than what I do or ever have done and worse than anything anyone I have ever known has done. Maybe this is supposed to be a thought-provoking moment for teenagers everywhere, maybe it truly makes some readers reconsider their lives. Most people probably just think Sam is crazy and wonder why they are reading about someone who, in the words of many of the characters, is a bitch. (We may take the time here to note this book does contain some unsavory language and a decent amount of talk/jokes about sex.)
Obviously the point of the book is that Sam comes to some sort of great revelation, becomes a better person. Eventually she does. She tries to make fun of people less, tries to understand them more. She never turns around completely. At the end, she is still defending some of her actions and defending those of her friends. Yes, one is an even worse person than Sam is, but this is apparently okay because she is just insecure and she will figure out her life someday. People may suffer from her cruelty in the meantime, but, hey, that’s life. Great messages clearly come from this novel.
On the good side of things, the romance is extremely touching, and I would enjoy reading another book by Oliver just to see what else she can do in the area. There is not much time for a relationship—Sam is dying, after all—but Oliver makes the short moments meaningful. It really is beautiful.
Oliver also deserves kudos for managing to make a story where the same day occurs seven times quite interesting. The second day is the most similar to the first, but readers need not worry all the days are alike. Very different things do happen, with a few unchanging bits as anchors. The plot moves quickly and is almost surprisingly engaging. Sam also becomes easier to deal with, as she begins to consider why she has been given the chance to live her last day repeatedly.
Before I Fall is a cross between chick-lit and science fiction that is intriguing, but will probably sit better with readers who normally enjoy chick-lit. In the end, it is just really catty. The philosophical questions are not exactly hidden behind this, but it can be difficult to sympathize with someone who is really mean and clearly full of herself. Oliver has obvious talents as a writer, and I am still interested in reading her other books because of the questions she raises, her beautiful prose, and her characterization. I just want to be sure her characterization skills are used on people who are little more likeable.
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