Before I get to the review I just wanted to let everyone know I don't typically write reviews for books I love. The reason being, I'm not good at writing worth-while and positive reviews (as opposed to my uncanny ability to write crazy rants about books I totally loathe). Or rather, I know I'm not up to the task: writing a review worthy of a book so beautiful, so eloquently written I can't stop thinking about it long after I've finished it. I know
there is nothing I could say that could not be better said by the book itself, or even just a review written by someone who is smarter than me has a way with words.
That said, here I am, attempting to write a review worthy of Before I Fall. If I fail, which is more than likely, please do not hold it against the book--it isn't the book's fault I'm not a talented writer.
So without further ado...
Popular girl Samantha Kingston thinks a lot about the what she's done throughout her seventeen years of life as she relives her last day over and over again. In all, Samantha is given seven chances to figure out what went wrong, what chain of events brought about her death. Seven opportunities to change and make things right. Seven days to save herself.
At first glance, Samantha--Sam--doesn't come across as anything special. Sure, she's popular but other than her superior social standing she's basically your average teenager. Her biggest concern is her virginity, which she will be losing to her boyfriend that night--she's freaked out but feels it's time to get it over with. Other than that she's wondering how many roses she'll have by the end of Cupid Day and if she looks okay considering she didn't get to shower that morning.
However, it doesn't take long before we're given a better, more accurate picture of the type of person Samantha Kingston truly is. Over the course of the day she cheats on a test, flirts shamelessly with her calculus teacher, cuts class, gets pretty drunk and treats her classmates like garbage--Sam and her friends are especially cruel to one girl in particular.
All in all it's an average school day for Samantha Kingston.
Clearly I didn't like Samantha Kingston at the beginning of this novel. She's a horrible self-absorbed teenager. What's worse is the fact that she thinks so highly of herself and her friends, saying:
"I'm not going to lie, though. It's nice that everything's easy for us. It's a good feeling knowing you can basically do whatever you want and there won't be any consequences."
And then goes on to say:
"If high school were a game of poker, Lindsey, Ally, Elody and I would be holding 80 percent of the cards."
After Sam finishes recounting her last day--in which she clearly does not come out looking good--she tells us about how she died, then says:
"Before you start pointing fingers, let me ask you: is what I did really so bad? So bad I deserved to die? So bad I deserved to die like that? Is what I did really so much worse than what anybody else does? Is it really so much worse than what you do? Think about it."
Like everyone else I went to high school with girls like Samantha Kingston and her friends. And like most everyone else I haaaaated
those girls. So. Much. Who wants to read a story about a bunch of horrible teenagers? No one. But you know what? Turns out when I was seventeen I was not that much better than Samantha Kingston. Sure I wasn't a total A-hole, but the truth is I gossiped, lied, cheated, cut class--the works. And I treated a lot of people badly--peers and adults. But I haven't really spent too much time thinking about the person I was in high school. Not until Sam asks us, the readers, if what she did is so much worse than what we do. That's why I kept reading.
As Sam relives February 12 we see her grow and change. At first her attempts at being a better person are so half-hearted, or ill-concieved you wonder if she's actually trying. And yeah, as the reader I got frustrated with Sam. I wanted to see her change right away, and she didn't. Then I remembered she's a spoiled teenager that hasn't been made to work for anything in her life. Remember, it was Sam herself who admitted:
"It's nice that everything's easy for us. It's a good feeling knowing you can basically do whatever you want and there won't be any consequences."
That's Sam's mentality at the beginning of this story, her reality, so of course she has no clue how to truly change, to be the better person.
However, not many February 12ths pass when a horrifying turn of events forces Sam to acknowledge the ugly truth. Sam takes a good look at herself, at her friends, and what she sees drives her to an all-time low--when Sam hits bottom she really
Sam needs that low point, the chance to spiral out of control, even if it's just for one day because it is only after she's humbled we see her make any significant changes. She starts to look at all she has (or rather, had) and be grateful for it. She looks at her family in a whole new light, and realizes just how much she truly loves them. She looks at her little sister specifically--a sweet little seven-year-old who is proud of who she is--and realizes she admires her little sister because she embraces the things that make her different from all her peers.
After Sam's low point her thoughts, her ideas become downright beautiful/amazing. There were many times I stopped to reread passages, and even consider them for a bit. Example:
"Maybe you can afford to wait. Maybe for you there's a tomorrow. Maybe for you there's one thousand tomorrows, or three thousand, or ten, so much time you can bathe in it, roll around in it, let it slide like coins through your fingers. So much time you can waste it.
But for some of us there's only today. And the truth is, you never really know."
It's at this point that my feelings from this book went from like to love.
And no, Sam still doesn't get things right away. She still struggles, but the important part is she's really trying, really working. She learns from her mistakes and makes corrections. Sam realizes, despite her belief that she can't be fixed, it's never too late to change. Some of Sam's changes don't come about until the 11th hour, but they do come
And yes, I love how this book ends. I know there are many people who simply didn't like this book because of how it ends, and for the life of me I cannot understand why. Any other ending would have been a complete cop-out (think about it
). Plus, I happen to like ambiguous endings because they give me the opportunity to think about what I just read--I can draw my own conclusions. I'm not going to say anything more about the ending, I don't want to spoil it for anyone.
I love this book, it is one of my favorites. I haven't been able to stop thinking about this book since I finished reading it two weeks ago, and because of that it will always have a home on my bookshelf.
By the way, I've spent an embarrassingly long amount of time trying to cobble together a semi-decent review of this book. Now go purchase a copy of Before I Fall, stat, you won't be sorry.
P.S. this book deserves six stars.
Update April 4, 2010: my husband, who typically doesn't like any of the books I like, just stayed up all night reading Before I Fall. When he finished it he woke me up to thank me for all but shoving this book down his throat (and he wasn't being ironic. Believe me, I checked). He sincerely likes this book. More than anything he loves the way Lauren Oliver writes, but overall he likes the story quite a bit. It was nice talking to him about it this morning, we had a very pleasant discussion. :)