Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm reviewing this almost a month after having read this book, and even now as I open the window to review, I'm still raging about the ending of this book.
...I think that's a good thing.
Before I Fall is like a literary, non-comedic version of Mean Girls. Our protagonist, Sam Kingston, surrounds herself with a boyfriend and friends who pad her social status and a bratty attitude to match it. Within the first few chapters, I assure you that you won't be able to stand her, and you'll want to put the book down because you don't think you can stand a whole book with her narration.
Then, she dies in a car crash.
Of course, this isn't the end of it; the whole premise of the book is that she gets to relive her final day until she gets it "right." Note the quotation marks.
Her journey boil down to a few essential points. The first: her friends. While they prove to be true friends, many are just as shallow as Sam is, and as she grows and changes through the story, she has to come to terms with the lies and secrets buried among their group.
Next is her boyfriend, who is a total tool. This is one of the earliest things she realizes. She struggles first with bitterness and revenge, then learns to let go and direct her affections elsewhere: her childhood friend, Kent, who has loved her through all these bratty years. It has been a long time since I've actually liked the tacked-on male love interest in a teen novel, but I adored Kent. He's a little on the too-perfect side, but he had a good bit of quirkiness and I was really rooting for them to end up together.
Finally, the central point arises in the form of a girl named Juliette, who Sam and her friends have mocked for years, driving her to commit suicide on the very day Sam is repeating. It's this plot line that really made this book stand out for me. Once Sam resolves to save Juliette, she tries every repeated day. Each one, she thinks she's finally going to get it right, save Juliette, and end the cycle...but Juliette is never saved. This girl has gone through sixteen years if hell and deeply believes that there is no value in living--one girl can't change that in 24 hours, no matter how many chances she gets at them.
I bet you're all thinking that Sam eventually saves the day and gets her life back. Wrong. She throws herself in front of a car to save Juliette and dies in her place. Now, why am I still raging about that? Certainly, it can't be Sam's stunning personality. Three major points:
1) She physically saved Juliette. Earlier in the day, she gave Juliette a small kindness that made her smile, and now, Juliette has to struggle with the girl that just gave her life for her. But this doesn't erase all the feelings she's pent up this whole time. Who's to say Juliette still won't go through with suicide and Sam's sacrifice was for nothing?
2) Sam's family. She goes on about how she can't believe Juliette would leave her family behind, but she does the same thing for the sake of what she thinks is right. One of the repeated days, she stayed home from school and did all of her favorite things with her little sister. That's great for Sam, but the sister doesn't remember that, so what good was all that?
3) Kent! Oh my God, Kent! Again, Sam had the whole journey of dumping her boyfriend, falling in love with Kent, and setting things right with him. But what does Kent get? "Hey. I've treated you like dirt for years. Now I love you and I'm going to kiss you but now I have to jump in front of a car sorry." What?! WHAT?! I actually started yelling that and threw my book down as soon as I finished reading.
So, yes, rage from the ending. But in retrospect, I have to give credit to Oliver credit for not taking the easy way out with this book. Even when Sam does the "right" thing and ends her purgatory, there are all these loose ends that she leaves and I still consider her a deeply selfish person. But I guess that's life, right?
4/5 stars, if only because I'm still thinking about this book.
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