It took me a really long time to read this book. I read the beginning of it maybe a few months ago, and never picked it up again. But, like the repetition that happens within the story, this book kept popping up everywhere for me: book lists, blogs I read, friends telling me to read it, etc. Eventually, a good friend of mine told me she needed to get rid of some of her books because of space issues/spring cleaning. And I told her I would be more than willing to give her a hand (aka: take some of her books and give them a good home).
I already own Oliver’s newest novel, which sounds like it is a lot more up my alley (an amazing sounding dystopia), and I figured I would give her first book another shot eventually. I’m glad I went back to Before I Fall. It was definitely worth the read.
The book is about a girl (Sam) who dies (in the very beginning) as a result of a somewhat drunken car crash. And the author seriously gets things. She understands how teen girl friendships work and how ridiculous certain traditions are. She understands how important the small stuff is to a teenager and she even gets how rumors get started. But, getting back to the plot, the book repeats in a very Groundhog’s Day fashion the day of Sam’s death. What I’m trying to say is, Sam keeps repeating the day she dies. And the book is about the small stuff versus the big stuff. And it makes you ask these questions: What would you do if you knew you were dead anyway? How would you live your last day? What changes would you make about yourself? What’s really important about life? And how can I fix things?
Eventually Sam’s final lived days kind of link together, and she learns dark secrets about her friends. She understands why the car crashes that ends her life (a bit of a twist). She falls in love with the right guy. She becomes brave and actively works to change how things are. And the very last page was so powerful, I was in tears.
So, why did it take me so long to read? Well, for starters, the book is massive. Granted, the book I got from my friend is an Advanced Rader’s Copy, but still it can’t be that far off from the real thing, and it’s 470 pages long. Add that to the fact that the same day repeats over and over, and it’s not ever really clear until the second half of the book, why this is worth reading. Oh, and it’s so easy to hate Sam. She is mean and cares more about popularity and looking a certain way than she seems to really care about her family or anything really important. She even mentions giving up her love of horses, so as not to look like a dork…And yes, I got from the beginning that this was necessary. It’s a book about change. And Oliver didn’t want this to be about Harry Potter or Peter Parker; she wanted it be about a real girl, a real slightly awful girl who needed to learn a few things. But, even knowing that Sam would grow and learn, it was hard to read. The way Sam talked to her mother, her teachers, and even to a lower-classman was just downright, obnoxious.
And I’m not saying I have to love the main character of a book to enjoy reading it. Some of the best characters out there are ones I don’t love (like Jane Austen’s Emma or Salinger’s Holden Caulfield). But there was something about Holden and Emma that prevented me from thinking of them as pure evil. Sam was awful, and no matter what I conclude about the book overall, it was really hard to read about such an awful, yet strikingly realistic girl, repeat her rude behaviors.
However, as the book continued, pieces from Sam’s last day linked together and were sort of woven into this intricate web of different outcomes. And Sam eventually does get better. As Sam becomes more tolerable and more empathetic toward others, the story improves too. I really needed to know how it would end. Would she move on at the end? Would she be able to live again? How long would she need to repeat this day? What lesson is she really supposed to learn? By the end of the book Sam truly regrets the direction her life was heading in. She helps others. And she lets people really see her for who she is. And all of my questions were answered.
As a whole, this book was remarkable. It summed up teen life, senior year of high school, friendship, love, regret, and growth in a way I have never seen done before. It is worth getting beyond the meanness of Sam and the repetition of rudeness to get at the web of links and to witness Sam’s maturity. I give this a 9/10.