Rating: 3 stars
With this stunning debut novel, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver emerged as one of today’s foremost authors of young adult fiction. Like Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why and Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, Before I Fall raises thought-provoking questions about love, death, and how one person’s life can affect so many others.
For popular high school senior Samantha Kingston, February 12—”Cupid Day”—should be one big party, a day of valentines and roses and the privileges that come with being at the top of the social pyramid. And it is…until she dies in a terrible accident that night.
However, she still wakes up the next morning. In fact, Sam 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 ever imagined.
I both enjoyed this book immensely and was frustrated with certain things about it all at the same time. But I really appreciated Samantha’s character growth throughout the story. In the beginning, she starts off as this mean girl who nobody can touch or hurt. She’s mean to everyone else who isn’t a part of her clique, and she doesn’t feel bad about it. But it isn’t until she dies and has to repeat the day of her death over and over again that she begins to realize how much harm she’s unintentionally inflicted on others. While I honestly feel like it’s too late for her to fix the problems she’s caused, it was nice to see her realize how much she hurt people and try the best she could with what she was given. Seeing her character go from being a total bitch to everyone around her to trying to set things right made me appreciate the way her character was written. While my dislike of her doesn’t improve, I’m glad Lauren Oliver gives her some much needed character development.
But at the same time, I feel like her actions are more selfish in nature despite how much her life has changed. I say this because most of the story she doesn’t focus on making things right with people. She spends most of the other days screwing around with other people because she knows it won’t really change anything. It takes her awhile to realize what she’s supposed to be doing, but she still manages to mess things up. Then, on her last day, she pretty much talks about how it’ll be the last time she sees her family and gets pretty emotional over the whole thing. While I know these things are a part of her character development, it still frustrates me because a lot of time in the story could’ve been saved for her to do something to further her along. I also believe this though because if the car accident hadn’t happened, she would still be the same character she was in the beginning of the story.
However, I appreciate this story’s message, which is that every action you take has an effect on everyone else in some small way. You see this throughout the story with the choices Samantha makes with each of these days. Some of her decisions result in a ripple effect that we are able to see when Oliver has her make certain choices on that day. I also like that each of these same days are handled differently and that we learn more about the other characters. I appreciate this aspect in the story because it allows us better understanding of these character’s actions, and gives us a better glimpse into their everyday life. You learn something new about each of the characters the further along you get into the story, and I really appreciate how that’s tackled.
I also like how realistic this story is about the high school experience. For some people, high school is one of the best times of their life while others really hate it. I appreciate that this story covers that experience really well by going into topics such as bullying, cliques, drinking, rape, sex and suicide. These are not only topics that need to be talked about, but are things high school teenagers experience during those years of their life. It made me feel like I was at their high school on that day, meeting all of these people and dealing with everything Samantha was going through. It made me better understand her group of friends and their choices as well as what some of the other characters were going through. I liked learning more about these characters because it gave you as the reader a better idea of what happened and the role Samantha plays in their lives.
I would have to say my favorite thing about Before I Fall is the writing. I like the way the story is written with each of these seven days as a chapter that Samantha explains what she did on that particular day. I also like the writing because I think Oliver’s writing flows really smoothly and has a poetic feeling to it. She gets really descriptive at certain points in the story which makes you want to continue reading to find out what happens next.
However, I also have quite a few criticisms for Before I Fall. While I think Oliver is a beautiful writer, I also believe she made this story a little too fluffy. You see this with the repetition of this particular day when certain aspects of the day aren’t changed, such as the party at Kent’s house. It’s to the point where I feel like this book could be chopped in half and we’d still get an understanding of what happened in the story. She’d just have to include the really important things, such as the background information on Juliet and why her past friendship with Lindsay came to an end.
She wrote so much in this book, yet didn’t include one of the most important details in the story: Why did Samantha have to repeat this day? We know that after she dies, she’s stuck in this limbo of repeating the day of her death over and over again, but she never once explained why she had to go through this. We also get an ending to the cycle that doesn’t make sense, because both these characters died on the original day. So it would stand to reason that Samantha is supposed to save both of them from death, but that ends up being far from what happens. While I understand Oliver has this as a way for Samantha to prove how much she’s changed, I find it to be a flaw with the story, since both these characters are supposed to already be dead.
Besides Samantha, everyone else has no character development. Yes, we learn more about her friends and the people they bullied, but we don’t see any of these characters grow. I understand that all of these events happen on the same day so we shouldn’t expect this much of them, but I feel like they’re could’ve been a way to make this possible. Like with Lindsay, you start to see a little shift in her when Samantha asks about Juliet, but that’s really it. The only thing that changes with the characters in Before I Fall is the way Samantha sees them.
Speaking of which, I hate how Samantha and Kent’s relationship develops. Considering what’s happening in the story, I felt like having romance was completely unrealistic. Even though this is a young adult novel, I hate that she paired these two together because it didn’t make sense to me. I get that Samantha has known Kent since childhood, but that doesn’t mean they are perfect for each other. Especially with the way Samantha’s character is in the story, it just didn’t add up to me. It was almost like she was putting these two together since neither of them had anyone else. Yes, Samantha had Rob, but you could tell she didn’t care for him all too much. She only stuck with him because he was popular and someone she’d had a crush on for a long time. But you can tell she’s not right for Kent either, especially with the way she treats him in the beginning of the book. It seemed way too unrealistic to me because of everything that was going on that I wish she didn’t include any romance in the story at all.
While I enjoyed reading Before I Fall, it’s definitely not the book I expected. There are so many things with the story that if improved would make it the book people are raving about. But for me, it had too many flaws to meet those standards.