Before I Fall (by Lauren Oliver)

12 11 2010

Before I Fall is the reason why you should never judge a book by its cover.  Something else I have to get out of my system first: the title… Ugh, hated it almost as much as the cover. That’s the bad… Now for the good:  I liked this book… a lot, probably as much as freshly made chocolate chip cookies.

It’s so deliciously frustrating, that it’s hard to put down before you know how Sam is going to get out of her life ‘n’ death limboland. Before I Fall is the type of chicklit that you don’t even have to feel guilty about for reading it, and it’s definitely not the type of chicklit that you should secretly read because of the disapproving glances you might get (again, the cover really doesn’t help in that department).  No, no, there’s no reason to hide this book… Lauren Oliver, can write! She can develop a character! She can build up suspense!

Sam Kingston is part of the in crowd at Jefferson High School: popular, beautiful, peer pressure perfect, an original Mean Girl… maybe not as bitchy cruel as her best friend Lindsay, but a bitch nevertheless. Why?  Is just because she can, not enough of a reason? Well, then maybe because she acts this way because that is what is expected of her as popular meanie?

This year the popularity contest that is Cupid Day at Jefferson High ends with a bang. After a party, Sam and her friends end up in a car accident. When Sam wakes up, it’s Friday 12 February again, Cupid Day. Sam realizes she has to relive the same day over and over again, stuck in a loop of almost having sex for the first time, bullying various fellow students (and teachers), going to cute boy Kent’s party, having vodka shots, and visiting her local The Country’s Best Yoghurt.  It’s up to Sam to figure out why she’s been given this succession of second chances. Will she live? Will she die? What’s the catch? Does she have to set things right?

Oliver’s writing style sucked me in from the very first page. Not only is the book a bundle of suspense – besides the car crash there is no action to speak of, though – the witty and sarcastic humor (especially in the dialogue)  is really refreshing in what is actually a morbid premise: what happens if you have to relive the same day over and over again stuck between life and death? What consequences do our actions have on the people around us? Can we change the outcome of things? Can you avoid the inevitable…?

Most of the suspense, though, lies in the characterization of the main character. Sam tries to figure out what she should do to move forward in life (death?). At the same time, she also learns more about herself, her motivations and she starts to become more of her own person in 7 days that she’s ever been in the 17 years before. She’s always been a follower. She never really questioned Lindsay (who ‘discovered’ her and made her popular), and there were always things the 4 girls (Sam, Lindsay, Ally, Elody) never talked about together, the hidden secrets between BFFs. But maybe now is the time for her to lead… on her own terms. To become who you really are. I love that Sam, in part, starts to learn this lesson through her little sister Izzy. Izzy has a lisp, and when Sam asks her why she doesn’t want to do something about it (Izzy is teased about it by her classmates), Izzy says it’s who she is and she wouldn’t be Izzy anymore. Besides Sam, the minor characters, especially Lindsay and Kent are also so believable. I mean: the bitch is more than a bitch, she’s someone’s best friend, she can be sweet, she can be scared, she can be desperate.

I love it that Lauren Oliver made the effort of developing more than just a couple of two-dimensional characters. Before I Fall is Oliver’s debut novel, and she was clearly onto a winner here: eloquent, layered and with a poignant message about the impact your actions and thoughts have on other people.

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