Review: Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver

Title: Before I Fall
Author: Lauren Oliver
Published by Hodder and Stoughton, 2010

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How I discovered this book: After all the hype around Delirium, I got curious with Lauren Oliver’s books. I saw Before I Fall in my public library, liked the story premise and decided to give it a try.

ReviewThis book awoke in me a huge amount of feelings. I mean, I felt angry, heartbroken, hateful, warmhearted, frustrated, nostalgic… I still don’t know exactly how I feel about the book now. (Maybe while writing this review I’ll know how I feel about the book. It’s not the first time it happens.) I do know that this story reminded me to be more mindful of the gift that is to be alive and what kind of person I want to be

The book is about Samantha Kingston, a high school mean girl who dies in a car accident when she’s coming home after a Friday night out partying with her friends. The thing is that Sam doesn’t stay dead, like people are supposed to. Instead, she wakes up over and over to relive her last day until she figures out what is stopping her from moving on. Each chapter corresponds to a day relived by Sam, and each day she becomes more aware of the mistakes she made and how empty her life is. In other words, she is given the chance to make amends and set things right before she moves on.

Samatha is one of those insufferable popular/mean girls, with her popular group of annoying/selfish friends that we all must have met in high school. I was one of those geeky/smart/bullied girls, really close to the edge of the social circle, so reading about Sam’s daily life and her friends (Lindsey, Elody and Ally) did touch a nerve. Sometimes I just wanted to slap them all, yell “wake up! stop being so shallow and stupid! what you say and the rumours you spread have consequences!”. God! These girls irritated me SO MUCH. I’m so glad high school days are long gone.

On the other hand, I liked that Oliver chose a mean girl as a main character. It was refreshing, actually. We always have YA books about non-popular girls, (socially awkward, completely insecure), that after finding “Edward Cullen” turn out to be really cute and beautiful and smart and strong. *I think there’s a factory somewhere making this kind of characters 24/7.* Sam and her friends were a challenge and, honestly, Oliver did a great job showing us their side of the story, the perks and cons of being in the popular side. Oliver showed me these girls’ “human” side, their flaws, weaknesses and fears. I’m glad she did it, because it really added to the book. Sam didn’t know better, she just followed the crowd and “the rules” that say acting like “this” is the right way, the cool way. At some point I stopped hating her and actually felt sorry for the girls, because they were just so unaware of what life is really about. To be truthful, on the last two chapters I actually liked Sam and felt sorry she was, well, dead.

We also get to know some characters on the non-popular side, who were bullied by Sam and her friends (Juliet Sykes, Anna Cartullo, Kent McFuller). I liked them the most, to be honest. I could relate to them. Juliet was a victim, her only fault was loving her friend too much and being compassionate. Kent had a crush on Sam since ever, but the girl was so stupid and so “worried” about being popular that she wouldn’t date someone she loved, only someone who was “cool”. (bahhhhhhhhhhhh!!!! you have no idea how this kind of mentality drives me crazy!!). Although, when Sam dies, she finally starts using her brain cells and sees that Rob (the jerk she calls boyfriend) is not worth her time and Kent is, after all, the one she truly loves. (well Sam, you should have figured that out sooner, don’t you think?). I’m so sorry for Kent!! Oliver should have allowed him to move on, find another girl to love. Sam is dead! It’s not like she’s coming back from ghost land. Was it necessary to break the guy’s heart over and over? That’s mean. I didn’t like it. It broke my heart. 

Now, what I really  didn’t like about the book was the repetition. Since each of the seven chapters is a reliving of Sam’s last day, with little to no changes on the first 2 to 3 days, at some point I got SO bored. I mean, I was hating the main characters, I was reading about the same daily routine and events chapter after long chapter. At some point I really had to force myself to turn the page and keep reading. Also, the book was all too predictable. I already knew where the story was going, the “thing” that Sam had to do to move on, that she was going to turn away from her mean self and try to be a better person… Nothing surprised me! So, again, I had to force my way through the book, only because I thought that the overall message was worth it. I’m glad I did it, though. In the end, I enjoyed the book.

Obviously, this is a story, and I honestly don’t believe that we all have the chance to realise after death of how mean and utterly stupid we’ve been to others, how eagerly we’ve been throwing our lives to the gutter, and still have time do something about it. Nevertheless, I really liked the message Oliver tried to pass. I mean, do we really stop to think before we say “I hate you” or other rude stuff to our parents/friends/whoever that these might be the last words they’re going to hear from us? We don’t think about this stuff. Most of us live every day as if we are immortal, but we aren’t. As if we’ll always have a tomorrow, and we don’t really know if we will. Most of the time, we don’t think about what we do and say, we don’t care if and how it will affect others. I’ve lost too many loved ones to know how quickly and sudden we can leave this world… To know that most of the time we don’t get a second chance to tell them how much we love and respect them. Sometimes loss strikes as a lightening. You don’t know you’ve lost that person until she/he is no longer there. And then you see your heart being shattered, broken to pieces, and all you think about is what you could have done differently. So, you can see that, despite everything that was annoying and boring, this book touched me. Mostly because I could understand and relate to the author’s message, to the lesson we can learn through Sam’s story. This book reminded me again that each day is precious. It reminded me to be less selfish and more caring with people. It reminded me that not long ago I said to myself that I was going to be a better human being, and I still have a lot to do to reach my goal.

Overall: I think this book is a must read specially for teenagers, actually. In a way, it’s really a wake up call and, if we pay attention, it can really point the path to be a better person and value more each day we get to live. It’s a lesson. So, despite all the plot annoyances, repetitions and predictability, it’s a book I definitely recommend.

(P.S.: Sorry for the incredibly long review!!! Someone needs to teach me how to write objective, short straight-to-the-point reviews. If you read it all, thank you!)


Quotes worth mentioning: 

“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 it, let it slide like coins through you 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 funny, isn’t it? When you are young you just want to be old, and then later you wish you could go back to being a kid.”

“Here’s another thing to remember: hope keeps you alive. Even when you’re dead, it’s the only thing that keeps you alive.”