Thursday, 2 August 2012

Before I Fall

Author: Lauren Oliver
Type: ebook from library
Genre: Young Adult
First Published: 2010
First Line: "They say before you die your whole life flashes before your eyes, but that's not how it happened for me."

Synopsis: Samantha Kingston thinks that she's living the perfect teenage life.  Not only is she very popular but she's dating the guy everyone adores, hangs around with the ultra popular clique and has a bright future ahead of her.  All in all, she has no regrets and can only see a bright future ahead of her.

Everything changes on the evening of February 12th.  That night, Sam and her friends go to a house party and are involved in an accident on the way home.  Sam dies.  Sam awakens the next morning only to find out that it's February 12th -- again.  Sam relives her final day over and over and initially doesn't understand why she's caught in a "Groundhog Day" repetition.  Slowly Sam gains more insight into her life and how some of her choices as well as how she treats others need to change.

My Thoughts:  I want to start this review by saying that I have heard about author Lauren Oliver for quite some time now but, for some reason or other, haven't picked up one of her books until recently.  "Before I Fall" was Oliver's first book and I have to admit that I was impressed by it.  It's kind of a cross between the movies "Groundhog Day" (remember that movie with Bill Murray?) and "Mean Girls".

Oliver starts off with a fairly typical high school scene but she inserts such an interesting premise that I was hooked pretty early on.  This repetition of the same day could have easily gotten bogged down and boring each time Sam had to relive her day but Oliver managed to keep me interested. At first the changes in Sam were very small but slowly she gains a different perspective on her life and doesn't like what she sees. It's that evolution and Sam's self-realization that kept me turning pages.

I really didn't like Sam (or her popular cronies) very much at all in the beginning of the book.  They showcased all the callous, mean spirited behaviour that I hate.  Ever so slowly, as Sam begins her self discovery, I began to like her more and more.  Especially once Sam realizes just how much she's allowed herself to be influenced by others which resulted in losing who she really was in the process.  Sam's changes are done in a realistic way and aren't rushed to get to the desired effect.   She sees how every little choice - whether it's stealing a parking space from another student, to making a rude comment to another student, to deciding to go to a certain party, can have a ripple effect and change events.  

Sam transforms from this fairly clueless and shallow young woman to slowly seeing where she has gone wrong in her life. It's like she's finally opening her eyes to how empty her life was before the accident.  During this transformation Sam goes through several emotions during the seven repetitive days. It's these emotions ranging from anger, denial, sadness, resignation to finally acceptance and a willingness and desire to change that made her transformation fairly realistic.  That said, I don't think Sam's motives for her change were altruistic.  She never really owned up to all of the 'bad' things that she did to others or allowed her friends to get away with. Most of the time her motives to change were fueled by her need to impress a nice guy. An ok start for change I suppose but it took more priority than I was hoping initially. Is that perhaps more realistic for a teen?  Who knows.  I'm just an 'old' Mom of three. ;)

While I did like Sam as the main character, her BFFs (ie the Mean Girls) were good enough to hate.  They were spiteful, self-obsessed girls whose goal was to be the centre of the high school social scene no matter the cost to the 'peons' around them.  That's not to say that they were totally clich├ęd.  Each had her own good points and bad points or at least you can see why they are the way they are. It was hard to hate even the meanest 'Mean Girl' once you saw a glimpse into her life.  These girls didn't evolve as much as Sam but they also weren't given seven re-dos to get it right either.   They also helped to show just how far Sam has come in her transformation.

I suppose I'm lucky in that I don't remember high school being quite so ruthless.   There were cliques, of course, but I never really saw the brutal bullying that was portrayed in this book.  Can I get a hallelujah!?!  Sadly, high school nowadays is a totally different affair.  If this book realistically portrays the current climate of high school we are in a very sad state of affairs.  I guess what shocked me the most was how much power and control Sam and her friends had over other students and even staff.  I was more than a little shocked at how everyone (teens and teachers alike) let these popular teens get away with horrible behaviour just because they were popular.

I think that Oliver has successfully given a realistic 'teen voice' to this book. She shows the cruelty that can sometimes occur (ok, often times) in high school. She focuses on the issue of bullying, teen sex, drinking etc in a believable and realistic way.  While I didn't love the ending I still really enjoyed this book.  If nothing else hopefully this will change how some people view their actions and the consequences of those actions on others.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

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