Title: Before I Fall
Author: Lauren Oliver
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?
Samantha Kingston has it all: the world’s most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life.
Instead, it turns out to be her last.
Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.”
Thoughts: Before I Fall is appearing on many Best Of 2010 lists for good reason. As frustrating as it is spellbinding, Ms. Oliver takes the reader on a roller coaster of a story, ultimately revealing humanity’s connections in unexpected ways. The premise is painful and touchy, but Ms. Oliver delivers with aplomb. The result is a novel that is stunning in its powerful simplicity.
Sam Kingston is the girl who has it all, but that does not mean she is the most likable of characters. In fact, she is eerily reminiscent of the Plastics in the movie, Mean Girls. Yet, as she faces the same day over again seven times, Sam becomes more sympathetic only as she takes ownership of her actions. She ultimately realizes that every action has a consequence for someone else, whether one ever comes to understand those consequences or not.
As Sam’s attitude becomes more adult-like, the horrific nature of her situation becomes more pronounced. This is where Before I Fall truly shines. For, who wants to keep reliving one’s death? Who wants to continue to experience the pain and anguish of knowing what is to come without being able to stop it? Who wants to have to say good-bye seven different times to the same people? Sam’s experiences raise excellent questions about whether one truly wants to know how much time one has left on this earth. Is knowing really all that beneficial?
For me, part of the horror story was experiencing the high school drama through Sam’s eyes. I was never part of that particular clique, nor can I fathom being that cruel to others on purpose. In fact, I was one who was teased, so for me, this portion of the story was truly the stuff of nightmares, old nightmares but nightmares none the less.
Before I Fall appeals to the voyeuristic nature of humans, yet it also forces the reader to truly empathize with Sam. The reader is required to ask the tough questions of what it means to make a difference or even the ultimate sacrifice. Sam’s plight leaves the reader breathless with worry and with anticipation. The result is a novel that makes one uncomfortable while reading, yet one that is impossible to stop reading. The unknown quality of Sam’s fate builds the suspense to the point where the reader is compelled to keep turning the page, and her final decision leaves the reader in tears. It does not matter if the reader is a teen or an adult, Before I Fall has universal appeal to all ages. Thought-provoking and powerful, it is a novel not easily forgotten.