August 29, 2010

Before I Fall: Review

It starts with a death. It's Friday, Sam is sitting shotgun in her friend Lindsay's car as they drive home from a party, when suddenly - it's over. There's a crash, and then she's falling through darkness. So when she wakes up the next morning, she's a little confused about what happened...and it gets a good deal more confusing when Sam realizes that she's woken up to Friday. Again. And then again. And then again. Sam can change the choices she makes during the day, but will she be able to alter the ultimate outcome? Or is she destined to die that day?

Before I Fall is like the movie Groundhog Day (which, by the way, I really enjoy!), but set in high school. It's a good thing Lauren Oliver references the movie, because there are certainly a few similarities - for instance, the various stages each main character goes through as they realize things about their situation, and "the other car will swerve first" idea. I'd never seen this premise used before in a book, however, and Oliver does a good job of making it her own.


I didn't like Sam at the beginning. I'm quite sure that was intentional on Oliver's part. Frankly, Sam starts out as rather self-centered and shallow with a frustrating lack of self-awareness. Not to mention, she has a tendency to unthinkingly follow along with what everyone else is doing (particularly her friends, and particularly the ringleader Lindsay). Sam does understand that she's popular - and she's willing to do almost anything to keep it that way. However, we are given a glimmer of hope for Sam's character development; there are mentions of a time when Sam wasn't so concerned with what everyone else thought of her, and she does have some good qualities - loyalty to her friends (though they may not deserve it) and love for her family, especially her younger sister. In this way, Oliver shows us that Sam is really just playing a part, but she's managed to act it so well she's fooled even herself.

Seeing Sam mature gradually throughout the book, and learn what she valued and how her actions affected others, was really enjoyable. She's not the most interesting character in the book - she's fairly ordinary, all things considered - but she makes a good narrator. We may not always like what Sam does or sympathize with her, but we are all familiar with the themes of friendship, popularity, and growing up that are important at this point in her life. Sometimes I wanted to groan when I realized Sam still hadn't got it (she's a bit slow on the uptake on occasion), but we do see progress, and that's the main thing. At the start, I would not have wanted a friend like Sam, but by the end, she'd become a person I think I would have enjoyed spending time with.

Lindsay was the only one of Sam's friends I really felt was a distinct character. She's the head of their little group, she's the cruelest of all of them, and she gets a thrill out of bullying others. So many times I kept wondering why Sam chose to be friends with Lindsay. After all, Lindsay used to make fun of Sam when they were younger. Originally it seems like it was just because Lindsay was popular, Sam wasn't, and when Lindsay invited her into the clique, Sam went. But over the years it's clear that a bond has formed between them (and Ally and Elody, the other members of their group), and their friendship has staying power. (Why she still wants to be friends with them I'm really not sure. They don't seem to go through the same revelations and attitude changes that Sam does.) Also, Lindsay has some secrets from her past, and they're connected with Juliet Sykes, the girl Lindsay seems to hate the most. Learning more about how Lindsay got the way she is, and why she is so hurtful to Juliet, helped me to better understand her character - though I don't have to like it!

Which brings me to Juliet Sykes, who in some ways was my favorite character (well, that's not true, I think my favorite was Kent. But that's for later.) She was the ultimate victim. For years and years she endured teasing and hurtful jokes from everyone; she basically had no friends. I really felt sorry for her - high school can be a pretty awful place if you're in a position like that. Add to that problems at home (her dad is rumored to be an alcoholic) and the reader can understand exactly why Juliet's lost all hope. The storyline surrounding Juliet is definitely where Oliver shows us the darker side of life.

Now, on to Kent. He's the main romantic interest in the book (don't try to tell me that Rob is, because he's not remotely romantic), but more than that - he's Sam's childhood friend. One she cast aside when Lindsay picked her, and she became 'too cool' for the likes of Kent. All of this time, though, he's still been trying to connect with her again, though she's made it perfectly clear he's not good enough for her. One of the sweetest parts of this book was seeing Sam realize what she's been overlooking this whole time by writing Kent off. And one of the saddest parts is that each day when she wakes up, she knows he won't remember anything from the day before, and she has to start all over again. I loved Kent, he was so adorable and so willing to forgive and forget!

I do wish that Ally and Elody had been given more personality. I think Oliver tries to do this by giving us some random facts about them, but I still didn't get a good sense of who they were. To me they always just kind of remained the mindless sheep of the group (maybe that's who they're supposed to be?) Also, I wish we could have seen more of Anna; Sam connects with her at one point, but I didn't really understand what makes Anna tick (and why she was doing some of the things she was). There are also a few characters (Tara and crew) that are introduced briefly for a day, but then not mentioned again. None of these girls had really distinct personalities and they all sort of blended in my mind.


Oliver's twist on the Groundhog Day premise - Sam's death at the beginning - really added to the novel, and made it a little less predictable. I was always wondering: was she really dead this whole time, and would nothing she did make a difference? Or was there a chance she could prevent her death and wake up on Saturday?

Still, since I knew the basic premise, I wasn't surprised by too many developments in the plot. There was at least one I-didn't-see-that-coming moment, but on the whole I would have liked a few more surprises. The book is more focused on characters - their interactions, their histories, their growth - than action, which was probably necessary given that Sam was so unlikeable to begin with.

I did have a little difficulty keeping all of Sam's Fridays straight in my mind. It wasn't so much that I found it too repetitive, because I liked seeing how the choices she made affected how the day went. It was more that I kept getting confused by what happened on which day, and I wouldn't always remember the details Sam would sometimes mention from a previous day.

I can't say too much about the ending without spoiling, but I was a little disappointed. It definitely makes sense and ties everything together - it just wasn't the ending I was hoping for. The solution almost seems a bit too simple, although I can understand why Oliver chose it. Also, the final moments of the story are a bit unclear (they're probably supposed to be, but I usually like to know exactly what's going on). I did appreciate how the epilogue mirrors the prologue, that was a nice touch.

Writing style:

This book was a pretty easy read, and although I often can't get into books written in present voice, it really worked for this one. The author did seem to have a penchant for shorter sentences, which when used too frequently sometimes became a bit irritating (but didn't detract much from my enjoyment). I had to flip back a few times in an effort to mentally straighten out the sequence of events of previous days, although as the book went on I kind of gave up on figuring out exactly what happened when and just went along with it. This problem is tied up with the nature of the premise, and I'm not sure what might have made it easier to keep track, but a bit more clarity in how each day progressed would have been appreciated.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5 shooting stars. For readers who enjoy stories set in high school, characters who gradually learn from their mistakes, and seeing how even small choices can affect the events of a single day.


  1. I've seen the cover of Before I Fall quite a lot since I joined The Book Blogosphere and was intrigued by it so I'm glad I've read your review.
    I like the way that you've described and talked about the characters in depth. I'm going to add this one to my wishllist so thanks for the review Danya !

    Hope you had a wonderul weekend :)

  2. I loved this book. I was really impressed with how you could write the same day over and over and not get repetitive. Like you, I like how Sam matured. I also like how we slowly understood why she was friends with someone like Lindsay - made Lindsay more sympathetic. I loved the ending, although I can understand why you had issues with it. Great review!

  3. This sounds really good! I have it on my to-read list already, should probably get to it sometime soon. I love a book with character development :)

  4. I really enjoyed this one, too. I haven't come across many books lately with really good character development... but this was one of the few.

  5. I loved this book and Oliver's writing. Though at first I was not too happy with the ending, after a couple days passed and I'd had a chance to process it all, I realized it stuck with me and I liked it.


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