We all have those books that we see time and time again. Someone tells us about it, it’s recommended because you bought another book, there’s just something about the book that makes it constantly pop up, yet you never read it. Before I Fall was one of those books for me. A YA, woe-is-me kind of novel. This is the second one I’ve read in as many months that opens with the death of the narrator. I’m still unsure how I feel about that trend as a plot device.
As I was saying, we open with Samantha ‘Sam’ Kingston meeting an untimely end in a car wreck. She and her three best friends have just left a party and none of them should be driving, but teenagers are idiots. After all, they’re the popular girls. The Untouchables. The ones everyone both fears and admires in equal measure. She and her friends are shallow, mean, and desperate to fit in, but also to stand out. They’re the girls I hated in high school. Just as Sam’s life fades to black, she wakes up in her own bed. At first she thought it was all a dream, but then her day just starts all over again.
For seven days, we relive February 12th along with Sam. It’s Cupid Day, which I thought was an interesting day to set the story on. Roses are delivered to friends, emphasis is placed on who gets the most. It’s another high school measure of popularity. It just drives the point further in about how there’s a separation of classes within the high school structure. Sam even goes into the story about her own rise from the girl everyone laughed at to the one who laughs at everyone else. As Sam Groundhog Day-s we learn more about her back story, as well as a little about her friends. Lindsay, the HBIC and Sam’s best friend, is the one we learn the most about, aside from Sam. The other two girls are barely fleshed out. I understand the constraints of the novel, but it’s a bit sad to see them relegated to such 2D characters. There’s also Juliet, the school freak that the girls torment on a regular basis, and Kent, the dorky boy that Sam used to be best friends with when they were little. Kent is also the one throwing the house party where the action tends to culminate each day.
There are a lot of themes in the book, lessons to be learned. How we treat others can have larger consequences than we imagine. What’s a choice and what’s fate? Is it possible to change the outcome of things if you get enough chances? Sam goes through the stages of grief as she accepts her death and tries to make some good come of it. It was really interesting to see the choices she made each day as she attempted to figure out what was going to happen. Oliver is a talented writer, exploring and manipulating Sam’s decisions. There’s clearly growth over the seven days, which is the entire point of the book, but it happens slowly. It’s not as if Sam just wakes up on day 6 and realizes her life has been horrible and she must right all her wrongs. I enjoyed the struggle she went through, her frustrations. It seems realistic as it can be, considering the material, for her to feel angry, depressed, frustrated, and scared. Even when she tries to make things right, Sam sometimes just ends up making them worse. In the end, though, she finds peace with her situation and tries to leave the world a little better than how she found it. She realizes she can’t fix everything, which I thought was the best lesson the book taught.