Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Before I Fall - Lauren Oliver


When it comes to sitting down and reading a printed novel, I am generally helpless. There is always a dirty toilet to clean, cat throw-up to remove, a weed to be pulled, blogs to be visited, or homework to be assisted. I leave the bigger books to audio, and stick to the under-300-page-variety for visual reading, or else I would never finish anything.

That is, until I came across Before I Fall. Rhapsody Jill told me I had to read it, so I ordered it from the library like a good girl. When it showed up at my doorstep and I saw that it was 480 pages, I gulped. Oh dear. Big trouble. Except it was no trouble at all, except for the fact that literally nothing else got done until I'd finished it (in three days).

Synopsis: Samantha Kingston thinks she's got it made. She is at the hub of the popular crowd, her boyfriend is the most sought-after guy in the school, and she is beautiful. But after a party, she and her friends are in a terrible car accident, and she dies. Before her soul moves on, however, there are a few things that need tending.

In a manic but touching Groundhog Day-esque story, Samantha is forced to live and re-live the last day of her life. In viewing this day as it occurred originally, there is no other way to describe it but UGLY. Sam and her friends are the mean girls, humiliating the outcasts, bullying anyone that crosses them, stringing along the boys with promises of sex, smoking, drinking, skipping school, flirting with teachers...every parent's nightmare. But as Sam is forced to view her priorities and her friendships over and over again, rubbing her nose in her every self-absorbed act, she begins to see her life from a different perspective. She seeks to understand why she has been chosen for this fate. Is she being punished in some sort of twisted purgatory? Is she meant to fix something before she moves on? After a few rounds of staring at the cold, hard truth of her life, and attempting to correct the error of her ways, she wonders if she is even fixable.

My thoughts: I think it is pretty safe to say I will never forget this book. Despite it's designation in the young adult genre, it has the potential to change the lives of anyone who reads it by asking some very adult questions. Are we living right? If we had to relive this day, would we be happy with the choices we made? What are people going to say about us after we have passed?There are also the questions that are complex enough to drive us mad and nearly impossible to answer (but provoking to think about). What are the implications of a stolen parking spot? A snarky comment? A practical joke? Leaving five minutes late for an appointment? It brings to mind the theory of the butterfly effect, and it is sobering. In Lauren Oliver's capable hands, it was the equivalent of being hit in the face with a frying pan.

Not everything in this book is explainable and rational. I won't list them for you, but if you read the book, I'm sure these same quandaries will probably hit you the same as it did me. My advice would be to let it go. Do not come into this reading experience with your literal hat on. Just come with your tissues.

I struggled with the decision to let my daughter read this book. Dare I allow her to read about girls behaving badly? Ultimately, I gave her permission because there are some critical lessons in the story that are teachable moments. There is reference to sex, there is drug and alcohol use, there is language, basically every mistake a teenage girl can make. And the repercussions are very clear. I wish I would have had the benefit of reading this when I was a teenager.

5 out of 5 stars

26 comments:

Julie P. said...

You're review has pushed me over the edge. I think I'm going to have to get this one!!!

farmlanebooks said...

It sounds a bit like Post-Birthday World which I know you also loved. I worry that the repitition of the same day would bore me in the same way it did in PBW. Are the two books similar in that way?

Miss Remmers said...

I adored this novel as well! Fantastic review!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

You're so right about not forgetting this book. I was just thinking about it this morning, in fact, when I was reading an article on gratitude. In fact it makes a great Thanksgiving book!

bermudaonion said...

We need to have a talk about your library - do they deliver your books to your home?

I've had this book for far too long and between you, Jill and Alyce, I feel like I need to drop everything and read it right this second!

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I feel sort of slighted at having missed out on so many of the wonderful YA books that are out now. I wish I had them twenty-plus years ago. This one sounds really good -- I can't imagine having to be the mean girl and then having to relive that nonsense over and over again. I guess "that's what you get" comes to mind, or even bad karma? I might need to pick this one up.

heatherlo said...

I wanted to read this one before, and now I REALLY want to read it! Thanks and great review!

Zibilee said...

Funny story about this book: I have seen it all over the place, and saw the author's name and thought it was written by Lauren Conrad from the Hills. I was like, oh, heck no! What is she doing now? Writing YA fiction? I was totally against grabbing this book, but now I see the error of my ways! I need to read this book, and also to pass it on to my daughter. The next time I see it when I am out, I am picking it up!

Anna said...

You've sold me on this one, too! After the holidays, I'm going to have to put a copy on hold at the library. This sounds intense, but a worthwhile read. And a great review, as always!

caite said...

"There is always a dirty toilet to clean, cat throw-up to remove, a weed to be pulled, blogs to be visited, or homework to be assisted."
Oh, see there is your problem. A good book makes all those things invisible! Well, it does for me...

The second gushing review of this one I have read today. Off to find myself a copy I guess.

Teacher/Learner said...

I've seen this cover on so many blogs but knew nothing about it. Thanks for your eye-opening review!

Jenny said...

I thought the stuff that goes on in this book is pretty realistic for teens so I see it as a good discussion starter. How old is your daughter?

I have to say this isn't really about the book but what I noticed about your review is that your library delivers to your door???

Alyce said...

Well you already know that I loved this book too. It looks like we felt pretty much the same about a lot of the aspects of this book. It was definitely one I couldn't put down until I finished it - I just had to know what was going to happen.

The Bumbles said...

I think you made the right choice letting your daughter read it if she wants - based on the way you describe the plot, it would be very effective in illustrating how the careless things we do - especially as teens - can have real effects.

Nise' said...

Glad you enjoyed this one. I think it would be a great book for a teen book club as it raises some wonderful questions to think about.

Iliana said...

Excellent review Sandy. This one is going on my wish list!

Meg said...

I've heard such great things about this one -- and loved Jill's review! -- but worry that I'll get too mired down in all the sadness. Would you say it's ultimately uplifting? Or am I just going to sob with no end in sight?

Melody said...

I've read so many great reviews about this book! I need to move it up my TBR pile!

Jenners said...

I read this as Jill's behest too and thought it was excellent. My review is still sitting in draft stage because I got all rambly and long when writing it ... it is that kind of book.

I could see it being hard to decide whether to let your daughter read it ... but there is SO MUCH to talk about. This might have been a good audio pick I think!

Lauren said...

I love, love, loved this book. It haunted me for a while after reading.

Carrie K. said...

Okay - you convinced me. I just put it on hold.

Kathleen said...

Sounds powerful. I'm going to download it to my Kindle (hopefully it is available) and read on my trip to Hawaii!

Nymeth said...

Between you and Jill, I'm absolutely sure I'm going to love this!

Darlene said...

Wow, great review. I picked this book up the other day. It sounds like such a powerful read. I'm glad to see it affected you so deeply- it makes me anxious to get to it now. I'd be curious what your daughter's thoughts will be on it when she's read it.

irisonbooks said...

I am very much looking forward to reading this!

Alice Teh said...

OK. This is a must-read for me. Thank you, Sandy. You did it again.