Blogger Book Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Posted by cat eyes & skinny jeans on February 27, 2011
John says of himself, “I started reading in second grade, and from there it just blossomed into this culminating obsession. Now, a book is always near me, and it feels abnormal if there isn’t one within a five foot radius at least. :)” Visit Dreaming In Books to read more of John’s reviews; for now, sink your teeth into Before I Fall.
“When I first came into the blogosphere, everyone was talking about this book. It felt like I couldn’t get away from it. The concept sounded great – I can’t stand Groundhog Day (as in the movie) but I liked the idea of a teen twist on it. Yet – giant hardback! Mucho prices! Teen wallet. Not exactly a good combination, and with a whole bunch of school activities and not much spare cash at home, I never got to it. Over Christmas break, a friend of mine had it. And let me borrow it. So now I’m a Lauren Oliver fanboy. If that reflects how good it was before the actual review does its work.
Things come of being popular. Notoriety. A high-up boyfriend. Late night parties and drinking and fun. Everyone knows your name. Samantha Kingston knows this life like the back of her hand. She hasn’t always been allied with the popular girls, but ever since middle school she’s been with them. A pact of four, they are best friends and will always stick together. Their social actions aside, they really have something with each other. Which makes Samantha’s death in a drunken car crash all the more saddening. Especially when she wakes up to find herself back at the start of the day again. Those feelings of loss still with her. All just a terrible dream?
No. What Samantha comes to accept is that she is indeed dead. Reliving the last day of life. Over and over again. Each day is different. Different choices and actions propel her fate forward. Instead of getting the parking spot in the Upper Lot in the morning, maybe they get there late and have to walk farther. Maybe instead of talking to her friends at lunch she hides in the bathroom to smoke a cigarette. Little things. Things that would never make the rest of her day change. So she thinks, anyway.
What happens is that things indeed change. Relationships are strained. People hurt differently. Some fall in love, others fall in death. She learns new things about her dearest friends, including secrets and hardships that were never known to her before. In death, it seems that Samantha is learning a new set of tricks. What her re-living will do for her, she has no idea, but it gives her the chance to realize just how much one day can make a difference for people. For better, and for worse.
The reader spends 7 chapters, a prologue, and an epilogue with Samantha Kingston. 470 pages. A [heckuva] lot of words. And you get to know her. Her fears, hopes, and desires. The things that make her twitch and the things that she finds attractive. Samantha focuses on her feelings well enough, but more so on the people around her. On the experiences she’s in. So how do we get to know her so well? I don’t really know, but that’s the beauty of it. Every page felt like I was being shown another piece of this complex entity – an entity I would never entirely know, but would be able to ably understand with enough knowledge. I understood Samantha. She’s the type of character that is immediately sympathetic yet still annoying with her preconceived ideas on people based on her popularity. On death, she is angry and very much the shallow character we come to expect. Yet her transformation is powerful and skillfully brought on. Hers is a story worth remembering.
The other characters are just as equally well thought out. There is Lindsay, the best friend from 13 years old on. Queen Bee and wild child. The girl that has it all and takes every kind of chance because she can and will. Yet she has deeper emotions that go back farther than Samantha knows of. Feelings that stem around a now-unpopular girl that brings her own set of events to Samantha’s flashbacks. The girl that goes out with a guy despite the fact he’s dating a goody-goody Catholic girl, yet has insights Samantha would have never thought of…and a home life not half as regal as the majority of kids that go to Thomas Jefferson High. Everyone just has a side to them that you don’t see at first. By the end of the novel, you imagine these characters as the people around you – and you realize that there’s a lot you don’t know. Scary, but very cool. Also, there wasn’t too much of a romance. Yes, she has a love interest-ish person, but that’s not the focus. If anything, her boyfriend that she really doesn’t love is a bigger center. I actually enjoyed it because it encompassed how extremely small the high school relationship is in importance to the world as a whole – especially when the person you’re with really isn’t worth the trouble.
Tying these characters together is Oliver’s skilled narrative. This is the kind of plot most authors would have to rework…and then fail at and rework again in 10 years after multiple published books and an idea of how to make things flow. Yet she pulls it off in one go. Each day in Samantha’s life is majorly different from the one before. The reader never gets bored in seeing the subtle differences. The characterization is obviously the strongest bit of the story, but Oliver gets the entire teen experience down well. She gets the parties and the gossip – but the subtle nuances like cheating and lying that so match the adult experiences. She doesn’t dumb down the work or the talk, like sex or drinking, just because it’s in high school. Not everyone will appreciate the length of the read, but I found it perfect and gobbled it down in a few hours. Do not get me wrong, though. It is by no means light. I nearly cried several times. For good reason.
What this book will always surprise me with is the depth. I read a lot of YA, and while it can be deep, a book with a premise like this is usually something that has a lot of potential and fails. Yet Oliver stepped up and gave me a read I was entirely pleased with and would be happy to reread someday. I can’t recommend it enough with the great writing and characters, and I have to start Delirium soon to see if she can continue this trend of awesome writing.
Rating: 5.0 Stars”
Thank you so much to John from Dreaming In Books for talking to us about Before I Fall.
Over to you…have you read Before I Fall? If so, what did you think of it? If not, will you be picking this book up during your next trip to the bookstore and/or library?
Share your thoughts in the comments section!
Erika (aka inkpoperika)