Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

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Monday, September 19, 2011

What are your “greatest hits?” What are the best moments of your life that you would like to relive over and over and over again? You might have a few that pop directly to the surface, or you might have an oddball moment that came out of nowhere.

This is what it’s like for Samantha Kingston as she dies tragically in a car accident at the age 17. Instead of her life flashing before her eyes, she remembers an odd day from middle school. But instead of going peacefully, Sam wakes up to relive her last day on this earth over and over and over again. Would you do anything differently if you had another chance?

In Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, Sam tries to fix the mistakes she made on the last day of her life, hoping it will change her fate.

By her own account, Samantha is your typical, snotty, popular, self-absorbed teenager. Many girls in her high school are jealous of her attractive boyfriend, her best friends are just as popular and snotty, and she gets away with whatever she wants.

This group of high school girls is not unlike the group known as the “Plastics” in the movie Mean Girls. As you read about Sam’s daily life and enter into her world, you might be shocked by her flip attitude and cruel assessment of others. I know I certainly was. But if you read deeper between the lines, you might also be surprised at her honesty.

Early in the novel, just as Sam is dying (for the first time), she poses the questions, “Is what I did really so much worse than what anybody else does? Is it really so much worse than what you do?” In that moment, you have to pause and wonder if she is right. It’s very easy to sit back and judge someone else for making poor choices until you remember all the bad choices you may have made in your life as well.

As Sam lives the same day over and over again, she does a few things differently each time hoping that the day will end differently. At first she makes just a few adjustments, because she is unsure of what is and isn’t real. She does have the power to make the day end differently, but it’s not necessarily in a better direction. Through the days that pass we see Sam grow and develop a capacity to reflect on her actions in a mature and thoughtful way. She is able to appreciate the things she took for granted, and she is able to see a bigger world beyond her own selfish existence. I began to feel sympathy for her, and hoped that she would be able to change her own fate.

I was initially disgusted by the behavior of Samantha and her friends. I was upset that young girls who have so much potential can treat each other with such insensitivity. As I read further I began to see their histories unfold. It in no way excuses their behavior but it at least gives you insight into their actions and hope for future redemption. I wondered how many teenage girls actually live in this false representation of themselves because they are afraid to show their true selves.

This book is a beautiful drama with ups and downs that make you eager to turn the next page. I was anticipating each of Samantha’s last days and yet was afraid at the same time because the author creates an overwhelming feeling of doom. I can only hope that other readers will walk away from this book with the same feeling that I received: you should truly think about the way you live your life, because you only really get one chance.

About the Author

Megan Garrett

Megan Garrett is the librarian at the Sugar Creek Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. She also writes book reviews for the Independence Examiner newspaper.