Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Publisher: Harper Collins
Number of pages: 470
My copy: ebook
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—looks, popularity, the perfect boyfriend. Friday, February 12th should be just another day in her charmed life. Instead, it’s her last. The catch: Samantha still wakes up the next morning. In fact, she re-lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she had ever imagined.
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I really wasn’t planning to read this book, because despite the blue eyes that looked out at me on the cover, I felt that it wasn’t something I would be interested in. Maybe it’s because I just glaze over the summary, or maybe I thought it would be just like the other contemporary YA romances that I haven’t felt like reading, lately. Maybe it reminded me too much of Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, which I thought was a really good novel already, and I didn’t want to read a book that seemed to be a copycat. Or, shallow as this may seem, I didn’t want to read it because it’s still in hardcover, and I’m not fond of hardcover books.
Regardless of my initial avoidance, I still ended up getting a sample of it from Amazon, and the sample kind of piqued my interest. Eventually, I got myself a copy and started reading, but I always put it off for some other book. It wasn’t until last week that I started to really focus on the book, and even then, I wasn’t sure if I would stick with it. The blurb pretty much tells it all: Sam Kingston is one of the popular girls in school, and she pretty much has a perfect life. February 12 is supposed to be one of the best days of her life, but the day goes horribly wrong at the end and Sam dies in a car crash. Although I was curious, it wasn’t something I thought I need to read immediately. That changed when I reached the end of the first chapter, and then I knew I just had to read it until the end. Just read Sam’s chilling words at the end of that chapter (Note: edited out some spoiler-y parts):
I know some of you are thinking maybe I deserved it…there are probably some of you who think I deserved it… — because I wasn’t going to save myself.
But before you start pointing fingers, let me ask you: is what I did really so bad? So bad I deserved to die? So bad I deserved to die like that?
Is what I did really so much worse than what anybody else does?
Is it really so much worse than what you do?
Think about it.
I had to pause my reading to really absorb that part, re-reading the previous parts to really get the impact of what Sam was asking me, as a reader before I continued to the next pages. You see, I couldn’t really empathize with Sam because I never had first hand experience with the high school life and the cliques that this novel (or any other YA novel that is set in high school, for that matter). I studied in a very small high school, and I don’t think these kinds of cliques are really present in high schools in my country, especially the small ones. Sure, there were groups — or barkadas as we call it — but there was never a “popular clique”, the one that everyone fears, hates and worship at some level. That being said, I didn’t like Sam and her friends immediately. I guess all those TV shows and novels where the popular clique is synonymous to the meanest people in the school, it was easy for me to put them into that label too. And in the first chapter, they really make it easy. Sam, Lindsay, Elody and Ally are the classic mean, popular girls that we all know. They were mean and self-centered. They picked on people in school that they don’t like. They cheat on exams because they can and people are afraid of them. They worry more about their image rather than the other important things in life. They drank and smoked excessively, they didn’t follow traffic rules, had sex with various people. They lied, they do things only for their own good, they made up rumors about other students and the others followed suit. They were just nasty people who I know I’d avoid if they studied in my high school.
But does she deserve to die that way? Does anyone deserve to die because they’re mean and nasty, because they did something wrong, because they hurt other people, because they’re not very likable? Borrowing Sam’s words: is what these people did really worse than what anybody else does? Than what I do? Than what you do? Is it?
Needless to say, I gobbled up the book after that part. Sam lives through the same day over and over again for the next six days. Like anyone in caught in that situation, Sam freaked out and wondered if the previous day was a dream, a crazy deja vu. Then this freak out moment gave way to fear, and anger and reckless abandon, until she finally realized that there must be something she could do to change the outcome, to save herself and live in the end. As she learns more about the people around her, she realizes how much power she has, and what she has to do in order to make things right.
There is a particular haunting beauty in how the book was written and constructed. It can seem quite boring to think that the same day is going to be lived out in seven chapters, but Lauren Oliver managed to make each day different, depending on what Sam chooses to do. Even the smallest actions can change what happens in the day and have a different effect at the end — chaos theory or butterfly effect, in short. I liked how there were so many outcomes in one day even with the smallest action that Sam does or doesn’t do. I started to sympathize with Sam after the first chapter, and I had to resist the urge to check the last chapter to see what would happen to her in the end because I wanted to know if she will be able to get out of what seemed to be her personal hell.
Like everyone else who’s read this, I didn’t like Sam at first. But as I joined her in her journey in the next seven days, I find myself liking her not because she was popular or pretty or perfect, but because she was flawed, and very human. She was mean not because she wanted to be, but she felt she had to be in order to keep up with her image and to keep her friends. It’s sad, but in a way I could sympathize with her because deep inside, Sam just felt very lost. It wasn’t just Sam that shone in this novel, but her friends as well. Lauren Oliver wrote very credible characters with a heart. Sure, they were bitches, but as each repeating day, she reveals another layer of Sam and her friends, ones that reveal different weaknesses and vulnerabilities, showing that they were also just as imperfect as the people the other people. The author effectively managed to show that even if they are popular, they are really no different from the others who feared, hated or worshiped them. I also liked that the girls were true friends to each other, despite their bitchiness, and it was one of the reasons why I found myself tearing up at the end. They’re not the type of girls who’d stab each other in the back, which is my impression of popular cliques — they really and truly cared for each other, enough to forgive and excuse one another, and yes, even help them keep their own secrets.
This book dares to ask the question: what would you do if you know today is the last day you’ll live? I know most of us will say that we’ll find time to spend with our friends, families, loved ones and all that. Perhaps some of us may even find a way to be careful, to try to avoid anything that could lead to our death before the day ends. Honestly, I don’t know what I’d do, or if I’d even want to know if it is my last day. I don’t think I will be able to handle knowing that this is my last day or my last laugh, or last hang out with my friends or last dinner with my family (I’d say last kiss, but then I realized that I haven’t even been kissed yet, so thinking about my last day without being kissed feels a bit…well, sad. ^^ But I digress). Will I be able to let go and say goodbye? I agree with what Sam said in the book:
…I’m guessing it’s like that for most things in life — the last kiss, the last laugh, the last cup of coffee, the last sunset, the last time you jump through a sprinkler or eat an ice cream cone, or stick your tongue out to catch a snowflake. You just don’t know.
But I think that’s a good thing, really, because if you did know, it would be almost impossible to let go. When you do know, it’s like being asked to step off the edge of a cliff: all you want to do is to get down on your hands and knees and kiss the solid ground, smell it, hold on to it.
I guess that’s what saying goodbye is always like — like jumping off an edge. The worst part is making the choice to do it. Once you’re in the air, there’s nothing you can do to let it go.
So what happens to Sam in the end? Did she manage to change everything? Well, I’ll leave it up to you to find out.
This is probably one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever written, because I wanted to give justice to this book that left me thinking and even dreaming about the ending after I finished it. Before I Fall is thought provoking, beautiful, and stunning debut from Lauren Oliver, definitely one of my best reads for 2010.
2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 80 out of 100 for 2010
Cover & Blurb: Goodreads