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Friday, April 30, 2010
Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Title: Before I Fall
Author(s): Lauren Oliver
Genre: YA Contemporary
Page Count: 480
The Summary (in my own words): It was supposed to be a regular school day like any other. Chilling out with her friends, partying it out after school. But then Samantha Kingston died -- and wakes up the next morning of the exact same day of her death. Seven repeats of the day you die. Seven chances -- is it enough for a person to change their lives?
The Review: This was honestly one of the most beautifully written novels I’ve ever read. In fact, I’d say it’s probably the most well-written debut YA novel of 2010. When I heard about the hype and how this novel made its way to the bestseller list, I was afraid of overhype, of being disappointed. But I was wrong. It was everything people said it’d be. And more, so much more.
From the summary, I had no intention of reading this novel. I mean, reliving one day over and over, how interesting can it be? But then, when I was hearing all the excitement bubbling over this book around the time HarperTeens was putting up a 100+ page preview for this novel, I decided to give it a shot. I sank right in. Everyone who lauded praise upon praise over Oliver’s writing was absolutely, irrevocably right. I cannot describe just how beautiful Oliver’s prose is, because I am not talented by half enough to explain it. It’s just – so incredibly beautiful, lush, tangible, delicious prose. Like, we get the exact same day described to us, and every time Oliver described the weather, the scenery that has not changed, she still manages to evoke different and varied sentiments, seven different ways of describing the exact same scenery that works and never, ever gets old. I flew through the pages, completely absorbed in Sam’s world.
I, like a lot of people who’ve read this novel, really enjoyed watching Sam’s transformation. I liked how her Mean Teen Girl persona was so very believable, and how she desperately tries to change her fate makes her grow as a person. All the changes in Sam felt believable, and it’s to Oliver’s credit that she develops this transition and character growth in ways that don’t stretch believability and even invoking sympathy, while always remembering that Sam is far from being a Nice Person. Also I liked Oliver’s convincing portrayal of high school life in general. It felt right and honest. And the high school scene isn’t completely whitewashed. While none of the prominent characters were POC, there were hints at the minor background characters being of Asian descent, which I’m pretty down with, personally.
I have seen many people citing the romance as one of their favourite aspects of this novel. I do enjoy the sweet romance unfolding between Kent and Sam (Who can NOT love Kent? Seriously adorable and sweet, that one. Totally boyfriend material.), but I’ll admit that it’s the portrayal of female friendships/interactions fostered and broken was that truly won my heart. (Why didn’t anyone tell me this book passes the bedchel test?! Sheesh, I’ve very disappointed in all of you. Jks) Yes, they’re Mean Girls, but the friendship that the four girls have is so genuine and true. They can be awful to others and sometimes even to each other, but we know that they truly liked each other, that they’re friendship wasn’t a sham. And Sam doesn’t just interact with her clique. We see her interact with the school’s residential “slut” (who was given a personality and breath, and it should be noted that there is absolutely no slut-shaming messages in this novel, which I totally appreciate), the sophomores, etc. In all of Sam’s interactions between different people during that seven repeats of the same day, we see this theme of hope permeating and blooming, that potential for making a difference, and the interactions Sam has with the girls around her were my favourite messages of hope. I especially enjoyed the Juliet Sykes interactions, the unveiling of secrets, and how even when things weren’t going so well, people have hope for change. SPOILERS AHOY: [I really liked the transformation of how Sam began to connect her salvation through saving Juliet, which started off very self-centric, but then transformed into a genuine wish for Juliet’s well being, and her sincere but awkward attempts at being “nice” was wonderful to see. That’s another thing I really appreciate about Sam’s transformation. It wasn’t that she suddenly became a “nice” good girl or anything - but that she starts to make this effort to be kind that won me over.]
I thought Oliver used the idea of the time loop most effectively to showcase Sam’s character transformation. The possibilities of the littlest changes in your actions to bring about change in your day fascinated me as well. The story unravels steady and slow, picking up speed towards the climax with that emotional ompf that will grab at the reader’s hearts. I never once felt that the story went too slowly, or got repetitive. The climax and the ending stayed with me for a long time, and left me hungering for more. This is the kind of novel that will convert new readings into instant fans of the author. With her writing being so polished, I can’t wait to see what she does with her next book.
The Verdict: Believe the hype, people, and grab yourself a copy of this amazing novel. The writing will blow you away, and the characters will enchant you. Definitely one of my favourite debut novels this year.
Title and Cover Discussion: I LOVE THE TITLE. It’s simple and memorable, and fits very well with the story. As for the cover, I’m a bit lukewarm on it. It feels so… normal, somehow? But I kind of like the unnatural stillness of the cover model, a curtained deadened quality to her next to the warm yellow colours in the cover. The font was very nice as well.