Author: Lauren Oliver
Genre: contemporary, drama, romance
Publisher: Harper Teen
Rating: 3/5 Stars
"What if you only had 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: looks, popularity, the perfect boyfriend. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life. Instead, it turns out to be her last.The catch: Samantha still wakes up the next morning. Living the last day of her life seven times 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."
I feel like I should be upfront about something. I've never liked movies like Groundhog Day. The idea of living the same day over and over again annoys the hell out of me and usually I find myself twitching violently about half way through wanting to launch my remote at the screen in frustration. That being said, I probably am not the best judge of a book like Before I Fall but I had heard such wonderful things about it that I had to give it a shot, and I'm actually happy that I did (for the most part). My family may be surprised at this, considering that I walked around grumbling to myself and huffing for the better part of a week (it took me 5, count 'em 5, freaking days to read this beast!) but after I was finished, I felt good about having read it. So let's just dive right in to my likes and dislikes.
Why don't we start off with the positives before we get into the nitty gritty. First of all I really liked Oliver's writing style, in particular the dialogue. It felt very genuine and believable. For being such a sad book, Before I Fall also had quite a bit of humor. I also really enjoyed a couple of the supporting characters, namely Kent and Juliet. Kent was very quirky and likable. He was able to be himself without totally ostracizing himself from the rest of his classmates. He was also just so sweet. In almost every scene with Kent I found myself "aww-ing". I liked Juliet for different reasons. She was so like the main character, Sam, in that she had sacrificed her reputation and her true self for her best friend, but she had so much more depth and truth to her than Sam. I really felt for Juliet and understood her even though her role in the plot wasn't really developed until about half way through the story. I also have to say that, while I didn't like Lindsey, I liked the way that Oliver wrote her. She is pretty much cold and ruthless and her true vulnerability isn't apparent until she is in the most dire of situations. I think I would have been completely disappointed if Lindsey would have turned into some hollowed out version of Regina George after her bus accident. As a villain, she is great.
Okay, here's where it gets all negative. First of all, and most importantly, I really hated Sam. I kept thinking she would do something to make me feel for her a bit more, but I just couldn't make myself like her. She starts out as a nasty, self-centered mean girl and basically stays that way until the very last chapter of the book at least in some capacity. Sure, she changes her behavior and tries to stop being so mean and vindictive but she doesn't do it because it's the right thing to do, she does it to save herself. This is super apparent with Juliet. Never mind that she and her prosti-tot friends have been victimizing this poor girl for years, Sam is sure that she can fix everything with some flowers and a half-assed apology. And does she do this because she feels so badly about ruining poor Juliet's life? No, of course not, she does it because she thinks if she's successful in getting Juliet to forgive her, she'll improve her situation. I just wanted to shake her! In the end, I couldn't really root for her. She is weak and selfish and it doesn't really matter to me that she tries to make up for it at the 11th hour. I'm really more concerned about the apparently numerous kids that she's bullied to the point of collapse. Rant over. Next, I didn't like the fact that Oliver tried to make it seem like the four main girls' friendship and loyalty to one another somehow excused their actions. I felt like she was saying "okay, so maybe they are horrible to everyone else, but look at how much they care about each other". No, thank you. In my personal opinion this is totally unbelievable. People who are willing to do ANYTHING to get to the top do not truly care about anyone but themselves. End of story. Finally, I felt like the ending (which I won't get into of course) was lackluster. I didn't feel like anything was really sewn up properly and it left me feeling pretty empty.
I realize that, for many people, this is one of their favorite books and I can certainly see its merit. I had a real moral dilemma with this one. In the end, though, the book really made me think and it stayed with me for days. I may have problems with the characters and the plot, but if a book challenges me then it is worth reading and Before I Fall certainly did that. So, yes, I would recommend this book, but I would also challenge the reader to reflect on the bigger issue at hand: how we treat one another, and the true consequences of our actions.