Review of “Before I Fall” by Lauren Oliver

I kept not picking up this book because it sounded (from the publisher’s blurb) like it would be a tired rehash of “Groundhog Day.” But when I finally picked it up, I could not put it down until I had finished it. I loved this book: it has suspense, inspiration, love, and a rich exploration of the spectrum of human behaviors of which each person is capable.

The plot concerns seventeen-year-old Samantha (“Sam”) Kingston, who, along with her three best friends, is a pretty awful person. Together the four are among the popular elite at high school. All the familiar elements of a book about the popular but not nice kids in school are here: smoking, cutting class, drinking to excess, the big party (described so well you’ll swear you can smell the beer and hear the music), casual sex, slutty clothes, texting, lots of dialogue in the bathrooms, and parents who don’t know or don’t care what their kids are doing. But, in an unusual twist, we learn about all this only by looking back after the protagonist dies in a car crash following a late-night party right at the start of the book. Sam describes her day in detail when she inexplicably wakes up the next morning to discover it’s the beginning of the same day and she is still alive. Did she just dream that she died? This happens again and again for a whole week.

Every day Sam tries to change what occurred and fix what was wrong. But every action has new, unforeseen reactions. And you find yourself racing through the book, hoping that the adjustments will alter the outcome.

Discussion: There is so much cleverness in this writing. For example, over the seven days Sam sees the same gesture someone has or hears the same words someone says, but each time she comes to understand something new about what she is seeing and hearing and to regard it differently, especially since she is now privy to its repercussions.

These insights even lead Sam to give us what is actually a wonderfully articulate recapitulation of the “multiple histories” theory of quantum mechanics, for which Richard Feynman won the Nobel Prize in physics, when Sam says:

“It amazes me how easy it is for things to change, how easy it is to start off down the same road you always take and wind up somewhere new. Just one false step, one pause, one detour, and you end up with new friends or a bad reputation or a boyfriend or a breakup. It’s never occurred to me before; I’ve never been able to see it. And it makes me feel, weirdly, like maybe all of these different possibilities exist at the same time, like each moment we live has a thousand other moments layered underneath it that look different.”

And there is some lovely, evocative writing in this book. Listen to this description of a kiss:

“He puts one hand behind my neck and pulls me toward him. And then we’re kissing. His lips are soft and leave mine tingling. I close my eyes, and in the darkness behind them I see beautiful blooming things, flowers spinning like snowflakes, and hummingbirds beating the same rhythm as my heart. … His other hand pushes my hair from my face, and I can feel the impression of his fingers everywhere that they touch, and I think of stars streaking through the sky and leaving burning trails behind them…”

And let me add how much I love this book for teens. It has all the lessons you want them to learn about drinking, sex, bullying, and so on, but done in a subtle way in which they find out for themselves. No preaching necessary.

But the best part of this book, for me, was how Sam learned to see everything around her for the first time, and learn what was important in life and what was not. And how she learned to appreciate the little things, the everyday things that impart joy. Ordinarily, we don’t take the time to notice them consciously or to convey our gratitude for having them in our lives, until it’s too late. It’s a great reminder for the reader as well.

Evaluation: I was not expecting this: a page-turner that I couldn’t put down; a sophisticated plot unfolding like a flower to improve upon a boilerplate scaffold; a poignant journey that touched my heart; and a book that left me feeling both sad and happy. It’s 470 pages but trust me, you’re be sorry that it ends! And the ending is so… well, I can’t tell you! But e-mail me when you finish, so we can talk about it! :–) Highly recommended!

Rating: 4.5/5

Published by HarperCollins, 2010

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24 Responses to Review of “Before I Fall” by Lauren Oliver

  1. zibilee says:

    Oh wow! From your description and reaction to this book, I would say that it’s something that I need to read and share with my daughter. It does sound a little like Groundhog Day, but much more resonant and sensitive. I am so glad to hear it was such a page turner for you and I am going to have to look into it. Thanks for the mighty enticing review!

  2. Trisha says:

    I have been not picking this up for the very same reasons! Great minds mess up alike I guess. I’ll add it to the wishlist.

  3. Julie P. says:

    Everyone seems to love this one. I’ve been wanting to read it for awhile now, but your review puts it over the top for me!

  4. nymeth says:

    Oh dear, I passed a used copy of this for 50p at lunch time today! That ought to teach me to open GR earlier in the day 😛 Hopefully it will still be there tomorrow.

  5. Margot says:

    You know I love to read about the books you don’t like but now you throw me this new wrinkle: books you didn’t want to like but they surprised you into loving them.

    I love the quotes you used. The kissing quote is very good. I’ve read enough romance novels to know the difference. It looks like excellent writing. I’m going to add this one to my list.

  6. Ti says:

    I must read it!

  7. Amanda says:

    Yay!! I’m so glad you liked this. I thought it was so well done and I absolutely adored the ending, though I know other people hated the book because of the ending.

  8. Sandy says:

    Well, thanks to you, I got sucked into this book as well. I couldn’t do laundry, clean the pool or do anything today until I’d finished it. And you are right, this is an amazing book. Great lessons, great insight, even for non-teens like me. It broke my heart and filled me with happiness and now I can’t focus on anything else. I’d love to talk to you about this one!

  9. Rural View says:

    This was a huge seller around here because a teenage girl in the area read it and told everyone about it – just before she was killed in a car accident. Very spooky coincidence.

  10. I’ve been on the fence about reading this, but your discussion really intrigues me! Now I’m convinced that I need to make time for this novel.

  11. Jenners says:

    Wow! You are just gushing about this. I HAVE to read it now. I’m going to go request if from my library immediately.

  12. Staci says:

    I’ve had my hands on this book more than once and just never got to it. Now I’m definitely going to read it because of your love for it!!

  13. Yikes….you’ve convinced me!

  14. Alyce says:

    This book completely surprised me too. I haven’t written my review yet, but I’m sure to be gushing. It was an amazing roller-coaster ride of emotions. The author obviously gets what the inner lives of teens are like.

  15. Vasilly says:

    This sounds like a great read. After reading your review, it’s very likely that I will give this book a try. Great review.

  16. I think it’s an amazing book as well. We’re discussing Before I Fall over at readergirlz this week – come join us! http://readergirlz.blogspot.com

  17. Rita K says:

    Jlli,
    It is on my ereader now. I better start before it expires!

  18. bermudaonion says:

    Well, I’ve kind of avoided this book because of it’s length. It just didn’t sound like there was enough to keep it going that long. You’ve convinced me otherwise!

  19. Sarah says:

    Yeah, I definitely found that the book moved more easily than I anticipated. It read well for me .. but as far as afterlife books go, I prefer If I Stay by Gayle Forman.

  20. Valerie says:

    Parts of what you describe about this book reminds me of “The Life Before Her Eyes” by Laura Kasischke. I read that one a few years ago, though.

    Since you liked “Before I Fall” so much, and also I like the quotes you included here, I’m going to keep an eye out for this one!

  21. this one sounds like i book i LOVED as a teen–the ghosts of departure point–and i just checked to see if my library has it available. they don’t, but my sister’s library does. i’m going to snap it up tomorrow and hope i can use it in my 12th grade class. 🙂 thanks SO much!!!

  22. Meg says:

    Despite having read a slew of reviews of this one before, yours is the first to make me really want to grab it! Thanks for a beautifully written review of a book that sounds, well… beautiful.

  23. Gayle says:

    Looks good! I am going to get it for my niece for the holidays.

  24. Pingback: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver Book Review

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