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
Before I Fall is making me feel very guilty. I very rashly purchased it B&N a few days ago, despite vowing not to buy any more books for the rest of the year. I'd only read the first ten pages before I was hooked and couldn't bear to be parted from it. Add in the smorgasboard of glowing reviews that I'd already encountered, and this equals choco coveting a hardcover copy of a 480 page book. Next thing I know it's in my hands and in the cashier's hands and in a shiny bag and then again in my hands and I'm reading it. At 7 o'clock in the evening on a Wednesday night.
I was in some sort of reading daze and finished it a few hours later.
I think I may have been hypnotized. I blame it on the shiny cover! On the the oh-so-very hooky opening! On YOU PEOPLE! How dare you get me so excited about a book that I actually bought it? Hmm? HMM???? HOW CAN YOU LIVE WITH YOURSELVES?*
Well, I do have to say Before I Fall was a pretty good read. It follows in the footsteps of a few Hollywood films with the main character being trapped in at time loop that keeps repeating the same day. Quite an unfortunate one, really, since it's the day that Sam Kingston is supposed to die.
Now, I've heard a lot about how Sam is very unlikable at first.
But honestly, I didn't find her to be. Sure, she's spoiled and snotty and mean, but she's not very different from lots of girls I know. And I love my flawed characters, more than anything else** So when an author manages to realistically portray a flawed character, I pretty much want to give a standing ovation. Sam has reasons for being the way she is, and with the continual flashbacks and backstory weaved into this tale, I feel like I know her pretty well. Which is sort of great. Lauren Oliver is consistent with her detailed characterization--Sam's best friend Lindsay is particularly vivid and Sam's love interest is three dimensional as well. Oliver's characters are not always endearing, but they're realistic and that's what matters.
The way this story is structured allows for a lot of introspection, and a careful examination of the intricacies of decisions and characters' behavior. As Sam passes through the halls of her high school again and again, is confronted by different conflicts, and then attempts to save herself from her inevitable death, it provides a lot of room for character growth. Before I Fall has one of the most clear-cut character arcs I've come across in YA for a while: Sam makes definite, noticeable changes in herself from start to finish of the novel. What's more, as a reader, we're party to her growth every step of the way. In retrospect, Oliver did a wonderful job of illustrating how little things could change Sam's outlook so drastically. And it's lovely that she managed to render Sam's journey from self-centered mean girl to something more bearable so masterfully. And above all, Before I Fall is a cause-effect novel. It literally goes through 7 different scenarios that vary depending on what Sam says and does.
Unfortunately, this had the downside for me that after Day 2 or so of the same setting and very similar events, the story dragged for me. It dragged a little more as each day repeated. I think it was somewhere in the Day 5 range--two-thirds of the way through maybe--when I really tired of it. I almost put the novel down then because I honestly didn't want to carry on at that point. Still, I slogged through and although I felt myself enjoying the book less as it continued, Day 7 was a pretty beautiful summation of the whole story. I won't spoil the ending but I loved it--it's exactly the sort of type that I prefer over anything else.
I think part of the reason I didn't have as much patience for this book is that Sam kept talking. A lot. Not in dialogue, but her narrative went on just a little too long. I think--at 480 pages--this book could have stood for a bit of cutting and trimming to make it a little snappier, a little less redundant. I think that's the number one reason why I'm not completely in love with this book.
I have to say that Oliver's prose is as smooth as butter, and there is a lulling quality to it. Her writing style seems to purposefully deflect attention from itself, but that's part of the reason I'm so fascinated by it. Seldom have I come across words that flow so effortlessly together. And even when Oliver delivered descriptions with pretty words, I just sort of brushed by it and continued reading. Which never happens with me: usually I have a radar for interesting descriptions and sit and pause if I find one particularly striking in a novel. There is something about Oliver's style that strives to be unnoticeable, and at the same time her writing just sucks you in and doesn't let you leave--even if you want to. Which is precisely why I'm puzzling over it.
There's not anything particularly different about her prose style that I can tell, but there's something about it...
I CAN'T FIGURE IT OUT.
It's very strange. I won't deny it's good, but it's strange. It baffles me.
The dialogue falls into that category as well--spot-on for teenagers, not condescending in the least, and witty at times.Again, it blends into the narrative seamlessly.
I'm still puzzled but I'll just say it's well-written and leave it at that.***
Strong characterization, solid writing, and a compelling story makes me conclude that Before I Fall is a good read. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as others who raved about it--like I said, I'm not in love with it-- but I still would recommend it. Certainly a great start for Oliver, and it's already on the NYT Bestselling list. Which is especially lovely since it's a contemporary debut--not something we see too often.
Rating: I give it an 8/10. I wouldn't say go out and rush to buy it at the full $18****. If you can borrow it somehow though, definitely get your claws on it. *****
* REALLY, HOW CAN YOU? I have no self-control! None!
** I do, flaws are my favorite thing with characters.
*** I lied. Still thinking about it.
****Keep in mind I'm REALLY stingy. You might be a different type of person and it could be worth the buy for you.
***** Or maybe. *drops voice to a whisper* I should hold a giveaway.for the big 6-0--SHHH! Quiet. Surprise, ehh? ---- LALALALLALALA! WHAT, YOU SAY? You recently read the dictionary? HOW INTERESTING!AND LOOK! A MAN MADE OF CHOCOLATE!