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!
Published by HarperCollins, 2010