For months I have been hearing buzz about Lauren Oliver’s debut novel, Before I Fall. It never made it to the top of my TBR pile because I had so many middle grade books to read for my sixth graders, but the buzz convinced me to pick up an ARC of her second novel back at BEA. So last week I grabbed my copy of Before I Fall and sat down to read it. Boy am I glad I did! I can’t wait to booktalk Before I Fall to my new high school students. Not only is it well-written but it is also thought-provoking, meaningful, and realistic.
Sam Kingston is popular. She is pretty. Her friends are pretty and popular. Once upon a time, Sam was a loser, way back in middle school. But now she isn’t. Now she is one of the chosen few. She is also pretty oblivious to how her actions and those of her friends affect her classmates. Sam isn’t particularly likeable. I didn’t even love her at the end of the book. But she is realistic. So are her friends. Oliver has captured high school perfectly. A lot of seniors are selfish, they do think the world revolves around them. Being popular is important, and sometimes that means stepping on those around you, as Sam explains.
But everything changes for Sam when she hears, “a horrible, screeching sound—metal on metal, glass shattering, a car folding in two,” and then everything turns to nothing. The victim of a car crash, Sam is convinced she has died. Until she wakes up again then next morning. Only it is not the next morning. It is the same day. A cross between Mean Girls and Groundhog Day, Sam is forced to relive her last day over and over, changing her actions a little more each time.
Lauren Oliver takes a fascinating concept and turns it into a thought-provoking novel. How does bullying affect our lives? Directly? Indirectly? How do our actions influence those around us? Can we influence them consciously? At first, Sam lives with reckless abandon, doing all the things she never had the nerve to do when she was alive. But slowly she begins to realize that she is meant to do something else.
What I really liked about this book was how realistic is, despite the premise. When Sam begins to relive her last day she doesn’t immediately transform into a perfect teen. Instead, she rebels more than she ever did as a living teen- seducing her teacher, smoking pot, cheating on her boyfriend. She slowly begins to realize that something has to change in order for her to move on completely. But even at the very end of the book, she is not a perfect angel. She does change and she matures, but she remains a teen at heart. While some people might not appreciate this unwillingness to become perfect, I love it. It is realistic. And teens will identify with it.
Some people mentioned being apprehensive about reading 480 pages about the same day over and over, but the story is not redundant at all. I found myself completely enthralled by the book, despite the fact that Sam was reliving the same day. Each choice she makes impacts the outcome at the end of the night.
Highly, highly recommended. Perfect for high school.
*my own copy