Title: Before I Fall
Author: Lauren Oliver
Publisher: HarperTeen, 2010
Where I got it: The library.
Samantha Kingston is popular. Really popular. She's one of the girls who made your life hell in high school, one of the girls who started and ended trends, had power over everyone in the class, decided who would rise and who would fall.
That is, until she dies. After that she doesn't know what to do.
After a fatal car crash the night of a blow-out party, Samantha is shocked to find herself waking up the next morning. But it's not the next morning—it's the beginning of the day she died. Again. And then again the morning after that. Why does she keep living this last day of her life over and over? Each day plays out differently, but what does she have to do to make it end the way it's supposed to? What can she do to make things right?
We watch Sam start off as a shallow, petty girl who is actually quite unlikable. She is cruel to her peers, counts status among the top priorities, and is consumed by her own popularity and ego. She can't or refuses to see how her actions and her words affect her targets, and how much damage she and her clique do. We do see how much she loves her friends, but it was not enough to shake my disdain for her.
Yet through each day in this nightmare, we see Sam's layers—how she got to where she is, why she acts the way she does, and why her friends act that way as well. I at least could see why she chose the path she did, even if I didn't agree with her reasons and would like to think I would have chosen a different route if I was presented with the same opportunities (but who can say?). It is a combination of believing you will live past high school and college, long enough to start a family, and not realizing what's important. We all can identify with acting poorly toward someone in our past and realizing how wrong we were in hindsight, maybe years down the road, but Sam is still 17 and her priorities are clearly not in line at the start of the novel.
Through the days that she relives, Sam goes through the stages of grief—she grieves not only the loss of her own life, but what she will have to leave behind and the people who will have to deal with the aftermath of her death. She goes through shock and denial, anger, depression, and finally makes the way toward acceptance. Oliver's talent is obvious not only in how she writes not only Sam as a character, but Sam's realizations—they are beautifully done, with Sam coming to them in a realistic way without much schmalz. I was especially impressed with the depth Oliver gave all of the secondary characters, and at times found them to be richer characters than Sam. Lindsay, her bff and the queen of mean at the school, has a less than enviable past that is slowly revealed through each day, piece by piece. Kent is described as a freak at first, almost an outcast in the world of high school, but shows remarkable strength and compassion in each version of Sam's last day. And Sam is given the opportunity to get to know many more "outcasts," girls who she and her friends have targeted in the past, for reasons Sam cannot remember or doesn't even know.
Perhaps the best thing about Before I Fall is Oliver's writing. She captures a teen's voice perfectly, without any dialogue or Sam's narration sounding forced or out of place. It is easy to read, and full of poetic and beautiful descriptions of places, people and things. And none of it is hard to understand. For that, I commend Lauren Oliver, and I will be sure to pick up Delirium when it comes out in February.