Friday, February 12th should be just another average day for popular, beautiful Samantha Kingston. But it's far from it--her ride home after a late-night party ends in a car accident, only when Sam wakes up, it's Friday, February 12th again. Forced to re-live the last day of her life seven times, Sam struggles to understand the meaning behind these experiences and the significance in her own life and actions. Because only when she can get her last day exactly right will she ever be able to take the next step.
With keen insights and startling candidness, Lauren Oliver's debut novel is a frank, if not at times brutal look at high school social circles and the careless cruelties and bullying that occurs on a daily basis. Sam is one of the mean girls, and she shrugs off her biting words and actions as something that just happens, collateral damage of living through high school. But through every complex and carefully plotted event, Oliver peels back the layers of Sam's life and teaches us all that every little deed has a consequence, and no act goes unnoticed. Though Sam is by no means a likable character at the beginning of the novel, as her character is revealed and she learns a thing or two about the things she has done in her life and the person she has become, she morphs into a true, selfless, and caring heroine, despite her many flaws. The story line is addicting and suspenseful. and as each "day" passes and Sam begins to get things right, the question that has been looming in the back of your mind since the end of the first chapter--What will happen to Sam?--becomes more and more urgent. Oliver is skillful at wielding suspense and heartbreak, making you think hard about the value of your own life and actions.
Before I Fall is a haunting and beautiful book. It will float around at the back of your mind long after you've read it.
on May 9, 2011
As a high school teacher, I'm always reading young adult fiction, both for the pleasure it gives me and in order to recommend and encourage my students to read. I picked up Lauren Oliver's second book, DELIRIUM, first, because I like dystopian fiction. I wasn't blown away by that book - the society she created didn't really make sense, maybe because there are mysteries Oliver wants to explore in parts two and three - but I was impressed with Oliver's writing itself, which led me to find her debut novel.
I'm happy to say I enjoyed this book a lot more. Early on, Sam, the protagonist, herself refers to the film Groundhog Day, as if Oliver wants us to get out in the open what we are thinking. You do know all along the basic idea: by reliving her final day over and over, Sam is bound to change and be ready to move on to . . . what? Heaven? A new chance? So the premise isn't exactly original (there goes that fifth star!), but what Oliver does with it, coupled with her truly lovely prose, makes for an entertaining and thoughtful read with a very satisfying ending.
One of the other reviewers complained that Sam's quartet of mean girls doesn't change or grow enough. Well, it DOES all happen in one day, and only Sam gets to live that day over and over and, thus, change for the better. And while there's a lot of the basic "stages of grief" going on in each subsequent day, from shock to anger to sadness to acceptance, I liked what Oliver revealed about the people in Sam's life and how she tied each day together. I also think we really do get to see Sam grow and change in a believable way: we may not like the person she starts out as, but we learn how this is due to the choices she has made and these choices are believable. I also like how there's no really easy fix to the crises that Sam encounters, especially when it comes to her relationship with her best friend Lindsay and that with Juliet Sykes. Juliet is a fascinating portrait of a kind of student I have seen all too often at school.
If you're a parent who checks out these reviews before buying their child a book, be warned: the book deals quite honestly with issues of sex, drinking, smoking and suicide. It would definitely be a great book for a parent to read with their son or daughter and then discuss together. (Do parents still do that with their kids?) Anyway, I do recommend this book!
on February 21, 2010
Sam is the kind of girl we can all hate. Popular, snotty, superior. In life, you could have pointed out her bad behavoir and she probably would have laughed in your face, or honestly, not cared at all. But, in death she is forced to take a good, long look at every choice she has made in her relatively short lifetime.
We get to know Sam and her friends at the beginning of the story, leading up to a crash that takes Sam's life. You have to be patient as you are introduced to them because they are not likeable at all. Just when you think you've had enough of them, they are in a deadly crash. That's not the end of the story, though, only the beginning.
Sam goes into a sort of sleep following the accident and awakens to relive her last day. Will changing something along the way lead to a different result? She tries, and tries again, and again. In fact she gets numerous attempts to "perfect" her last day, hoping she can make the most of her life...and her death if can't undo the accident.
This is not your typical tale of redeeming yourself. It's not so easy to make the changes that Sam needs to make to change fate. She doesn't simply do something new each time she gets a new day. Her first attempts are vastly different with vastly different results. It's not until she puts all the finest pieces together that she thinks she has the best solution. Life is unpredictable and so is death for Sam.
Watching this aggravating girl realize how wrong she has been is satisfying. Seeing her struggle to become a better person with only one day is fascinating. Wondering how (and if) she is going to succeed makes you not want to put this book down. Great read!
Note to parents: This book does contain a lot of references to drinking, drugs and sex, but nothing graphic.
on October 24, 2014
The moment of death is full of heat and sound and pain bigger than anything, a funnel of burning heat splitting me in two, something searing and scorching and tearing, and if screaming were a feeling it would be this. Then nothing.
Samantha Kingston (Sam) is a popular high school senior and today is Friday, February 12th, Cupid Day, her favorite. Today she knows that she and her popular friends will receive many roses. But the day doesn't end as she expected. She goes to a party with her friends and on the way home, they get into an accident and Sam dies... then she wakes up to her alarm and realizes it's February 12th again. Was it just a dream? Was it a vision? Sam doesn't know what is going on, but she continues to relive Cupid Day, over and over again. She tries to figure things out. She tries to change things, but nothing seems to work. Can she save herself and her friends?
First of all, I have to say that I didn't read the book jacket right before I read the book. I might have read it when I first bought the e-book, but I forgot what it was about. It was on my Kindle, so I read it. I was surprised by what happened.
I was kind of bored with the book until the accident. It just seemed like the same old high school story and really didn't interest me. Then Sam woke up and her day was repeating. That peaked my curiosity. I wanted to know why the day was repeating and if Sam would change and become a better person. It reminded me a lot of Groundhog Day (the movie) but I still enjoyed it very much. The characters were very strong. I loved some, hated others and even sympathized with others. I cringed when the popular girls were mean and it broke my heart when the unpopular kids were treated so poorly.
Older teens and adults. There is a lot of talk about sex and there is drinking, so it might not be appropriate for younger teens.
All in all, if you like high school stories and stories where characters have a chance for redemption, you will enjoy this book.
on February 24, 2015
First, I have to say that I'm not the target audience for this novel. I am a middle-aged, professional adult who majored in English in college. However, I have two teenage daughters and I am always curious about what they are reading. Most of the time, I find young adult novels to be immature and badly written with trite storylines (remember, I'm an English-major snob). One notable exception, of course, is the Harry Potter series which I believe was brilliant. But back to this book! Upon first reading this book, I thought, "wow, that was a good book. I really want my kids to read this." However, now it's been six months and I realize that it's even better than I first thought. That's because I can't get it out of my head. You get to know and understand the protagonist so well that she becomes someone you think you knew in real life. When I see the book on the bookshelf now, I get a little tight, sad feeling in my gut, almost like I would when I see a picture of a friend I haven't seen in years. That tells me that I underestimated this book on the first go round, much as I did for Bel Canto years ago. Sometimes you need space between reading a book and reviewing it to see if it stands the test of time. This one does. I'm happily surprised.
on June 15, 2014
This is the story of a teenage girl who lives the last day of her life seven times, in the hopes of finally getting it right. Samantha Kingston is weak-minded, shallow, and rather vapid, qualities I hoped would be interrogated and maybe corrected by the end. She has three friends, all of whom are as petty and nasty as she is. It quickly became apparent to me that her friend Lindsay was the queen bee, and the other three are all her minions. None of them are happy, largely because of Lindsay's tyrannical views on how popular girls should act, what they should like, and whom.
The problem is, a lot of narrative time is wasted on plot irrelevancies. Samantha spends time exploring other options, good and bad, in her day, and that's fine, but this is a 115,000+ word book. The other two friends, Elody and Ally, are meant to be important characters, but felt very poorly drawn. We're told Elody is a ditzy but good hearted, and Ally is OCD and a good cook, but we rarely see them in action doing anything but being follower morons, over and over. They should either have been portrayed in more depth, combined into one meaningful character, or cut out. In one of the chapters, Elody dies. I know I'm supposed to care, but I didn't. She was a nothing character.
As for Sam: she decides she's going to save Juliet Sykes from suicide. It's revealed that the reason for her choice to die is the way Sam and her friends have tormented her over the years, at the instigation of Lindsay. The reason for her treatment of Juliet was wafer thin and not particularly credible. I expected that Sam would confront Lindsay, would make her understand how her actions had harmed Juliet, as well as many other characters in the book. But no. There is no comeuppance for Lindsay. We get Sam professing her undying love for Lindsay to the end, despite Lindsay being a domineering, selfish, arrogant monster. It's Sam who has to make the sacrifice to right Lindsay's wrongs. It didn't make sense.
It also didn't make sense how easily Sam threw her life way. She finally found true love in Kent McFuller, freed herself a bit from the prosaic boundaries of who's cool and who isn't, and finally has a shot at being a decent person. So the only way for her to proceed is to die saving Juliet? That's ridiculous. Not very true to the teen mentality or Sam's. Overall, I feel like this book delved into too many irrelevancies and missed the chance to have Sam really stand up for herself. She never does. She dies doing Lindsay's karmic dirty work, as she'd done her dirty work in life. It was a really unsatisfying ending.
on November 18, 2013
Not every book has the ability to transport me to a time or place that I can identify with. Before I Fall was able to. A mix of Mean Girls and Groundhog Day, this book truly pulled me into the scenes and connected me to the characters.
Although it's been years since I've been in high school, this story took me back in time. I think it was Cupid Day that first hooked me. In the story, Cupid Day was when students bought roses for each other with little notes attached. Roses would be passed out throughout the school day and students would walk around with their bouquets feeling pretty special. My school did this too, although they were... ahem... dyed carnations, but still. I remember my BFF and I bought each other numerous flowers because it was like, the thing to do. This is just one example of how this book ignited some teenage nostalgia in me (and truly made me miss my BFF, who is now married with a baby and living 5 hours away, boo).
After my initial appreciation, I thought this book might get boring. Reading about the same day 7 times in a row? It wasn't boring though. Each February 12th gives the reader more information and the ability to view the situation from different angles.
Things I loved? The friendships. The perfectly imperfect friendships - just like friendships are in real life. The relationship between Sam and her little sister. That pulled at my heartstrings. The love interest. I think I would have liked him too.
Without giving much away, the Juliet Sykes character freaked me out. I may be wimpy and I know she was a damaged soul, but I was a little scared of her honestly.
A solid 4 stars for a unique, memorable story.
on October 10, 2013
Let me start by saying that I really enjoyed Lauren Oliver's writing. I read the Delirium trilogy and it was a fun set; so because of it I just wanted to push it through and not give up on this book, so I read some reviews and hoped to end up forming a different opinion than the readers that thought the ending was bad.
I had a hard time connecting with the characters and found myself disgusted with them for the first few chapters. An Author who can provoke this kind of emotion deserves my respect, and she has mine, however, I endured the "mean girls" bit in hopes for redemption in the end. Not only for the main character but for her friends.
Throughout the book, as Sam re-lives the day I caught myself shaking my head a lot and feeling like she wasn't learning anything from the experience, and even though she did improve her atittude some, with each "redo", the story was still lacking. She tried to set things right with Juliet but never addressed the matter with the source of the problem (Lindsay). When she finally understood the point, or at least I thought she did, she failed to execute the thing I hoped for the most, which was to help her friends see how idiotic they were all being for treating people in such a despicable manner.
In the end, there was no conclusion to tie in the focus of the story, nothing to indicate that things got better for anyone. I'm ok with a less than happy ending if it fits the story but this was just really incomplete and disappointing!
on August 11, 2014
I will give this one maybe 2.5 stars. There was some skill involved in weaving a tale with such potential for repetitiveness without it being boring. I just didn't like it. If you like reading about teenage popularity queens obsessing about sex and drinking too much and being mean to other people, maybe you will like this book. Even the changes that occurred for the main character end with her and her potential influence on others is foiled by the ending.
on April 22, 2010
"Before I Fall" is Lauren Oliver's debut novel and I think for a first effort it is pretty good.
The premise of the book is not too original - it is a sort of cross between "Mean Girls" and "The Groundhog Day," but Oliver develops it well. Samantha, one of her school's mean girls, relives her last day over and over again, learning more about herself and people around her with each replay. Will she learn enough to make a difference, to change her attitude and her life?
Being a foreigner, I was spared the misfortune of being bullied by mean girls, I don't have any experiences of Samanthas and Lindsays of this world. Therefore I am guessing my opinion of the book is somewhat skewed. I don't hate Samantha and her friends, instead I find this gang amusing in a dysfunctional way and feel sorry for them. Samantha seems to be an extremely unaware person, with low self esteem who doesn't even realize that she is constantly mistreated by her boyfriend, she is directionless and has almost no aspirations beyond getting drunk with her friends and sleeping with her boyfriend. Isn't that a total waste of life?
I don't hate the girls, because there are always those people who lash out at others and bring people down to hide their own insecurities. There is nothing new about it. What I find appalling is the complacency of people around them - their classmates, parents, school officials. How can these 4 teenage girls have a free rein of the school, how can they possibly influence everyone around them? It literally boggles my mind. Why is every girl so eagerly calls another one a slut or psycho when she can be at any moment the recipient of the same fate? It this is not a dumb herd mentality, I don't know what is. It is a scary thing in these days of school shootings and student suicides. But I digress...
I liked the book a lot, it is certainly a page turner and Samantha's road to self-awareness is compelling. However the ending is fairly unsatisfying IMO. I expected Samantha to face the consequences of her actions, to find a road to redemption, but I didn't think she would achieve this redemption so easily and would also be rewarded with a nice guy in the end. I personally don't think she ever completely owns up to her actions, never fully acknowledges her part in Juliet Sykes' demise and never confronts her friends. The whole time Samantha is more interested in hooking up with a new guy than in saving a life or at least pointing to her friends the things she has learned. Whatever "sacrifice" she makes in the end doesn't make a difference. In reality I think everything would be on track the next day - bullying, vicious gossiping, taunting of Juliet by Lindsay. So, what is the point of this experience for Samantha? To convince herself she is not so bad after all? Not enough IMO.
But regardless of my general disagreement with the outcome of the story, "Before I Fall" is a memorable novel. It is poignant in the portrayal of school bullying, and its effect on people, it is thought provoking and definitely current. I will check out Lauren Oliver's future works.