by Lauren Oliver
February 12th is Cupid Day, Samantha Kingston's favorite day, when friends and secret admirers send each other roses at school, and everyone gets to see just how popular - or unpopular - they really are. But this year, Cupid Day is also the day Sam dies. And dies, and dies.
You see, Sam can't stop reliving her last horrible, confusing, frustrating, glorious day, no matter what she changes and what she discovers about herself and the life she's lived -- though dying may be exactly what Sam needs to really live.
Before I Fall is one of those books that seems to just take over the blogoshpere on occasion. It has a prettypretty cover, an interesting title and premise, and people just seem to go gaga over it.
This made me leery.
I mean, don't get me wrong. It's not that I don't trust your judgment, blogger friends, and it's not that I don't want to buy books with prettypretty covers. Ok, I may be lying in both instances...but it's because I have been burned by a rave review and a pretty package before. So even though I caved and bought this one, I couldn't make myself pick it up for the longest time because I wasn't ready to be disappointed. Plus, the whole "Groundhogs Day" connection had me more than a little hesitant.
But the fact of the matter is that this book is a gem. It's not perfect, no, and it will frustrate some people, but it will make you think, and it will make you uncomfortable in the best way, and it will leave it's mark for awhile to come, and that is the sign of a talent and a classic."I'm dead, but I can't stop living..."
No, I'm not being hasty, but I do think this will stand up to time and reflection. Sam will haunt me, and the choices she makes, and her friends make, and her enemies make, and that I've made and will make -- they will haunt me.
This book is going to make people uncomfortable because it's going to force them to consider the things that they've done and the influences they've had. As a YA book, I think it's going to be incredibly relatable and enjoyable, while at the same time being effective in something that is pretty hard to do -- making teens think about someone other than themselves.* Hell, adults too, for that matter."I did my part, too. I did it on a hundred different days in a thousand different ways..."
We all do things that are thoughtless or careless or downright cruel, and Lauren Oliver deals with that in a realistic way. There isn't a lot of pandering to her audience or saccharine, condescending, sentimental bullshit. There's good and bad and freak coincidence all mingled together in a believable way. It's compulsively readable contemporary fiction with an interesting sci-fi slant that will draw in readers who don't generally read contemporary fiction. All you have to do is get past the Groundhog Day basis, which isn't irritating or overpowering the way I thought it'd be. Some readers may struggle with Sam and want to shake her, but I find her slow transformation, with occasional backsliding, more realistic and I respect Oliver for not taking easy paths in this book.
"...it makes me feel, weirdly, like all of these different possibilities exist at the same time, like each moment we live has a thousand other moments layered underneath it that look different."
The only real drawback for me was some of the asides to the reader. Sometimes they felt a little heavy handed or obvious, like Oliver let doubt creep in about what her reader (as a teen) would be able to conclude, so she pointed them in the right direction. Many people may not be bothered by these, but I don't like these sorts of things at all.** Fortunately, most of these were brief and well-spaced, so I could pretend they weren't there.
Pick this up; I think you'll like it.
*I say this with love.
**There was once a very long rant about the reader asides in The Tale of Despereaux. I think my Children's Lit class thought I was crazy.
Don't forget to check out my teaser readings (yes, readings. I did 2 -- they were just too goo not to share!) of Before I Fall, as well as this trailer:
<--- don't forget, this book is part of the Debut YA Book Battle. Make sure to stop back by tomorrow to find out which Natalie and I chose as the winner, Before I Fall or The Iron King.