Thursday, April 1, 2010

Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life? 

Samantha Kingston has it all: the world's most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life.
Instead, it turns out to be her last. 

Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing. 

(Before I get to the review I just wanted to let everyone know I don't typically write reviews for books I love. The reason being, I'm not good at writing worth-while and positive reviews. (As opposed to my uncanny ability to write crazy rants about books I totally loathe.) Or rather, I know I'm not up to the task: writing a review worthy of a book so beautiful, so eloquently written I can't stop thinking about it long after I've finished it. I know there is nothing I could say that could not be better said by the book itself, or even just a review written by someone who is smarter then me has a way with words.

That being said, here I am, attempting to write a review worthy of Before I Fall. If I fail, which is more then likely, please don't hold it against the book--it isn't the book's fault I'm not a talented writer.)

So without further ado...

Popular girl, Samantha Kingston thinks a lot about the what she's done during her seventeen years of life while reliving her last day--February 12--over and over again. In all Samantha is given seven chances to relive her last day to figure out what went wrong, why she really died. Seven opportunities to change, to make things right. Seven days to save herself.

When we first meet Samantha--Sam--there really isn't anything particularly special about her. Sure, she's popular but other then her superior social standing she's basically your average teenager. Her biggest concern the morning of February 12 is over losing her virginity, which she plans on doing that night. Other then that she's wondering how many roses she'll have by the end of Cupid Day, and if she looks okay considering she slept in and didn't have time to shower.

During the duration of the day she cheats on a test, flirts shamelessly with her calculus teacher, cuts class, gets drunk and treats her classmates like garbage--Sam and her friends are especially cruel to one girl in particular. All in all it's an average school day for Samantha Kingston.

Clearly I didn't like Samantha Kingston at the beginning of this novel. She's a horrible self-absorbed teenager. What's worse is the fact that she thinks so highly of herself and her friends, saying: "I'm not going to lie, though. It's nice that everything's easy for us. It's a good feeling knowing you can basically do whatever you want and there won't be any consequences." and then, "If high school were a game of poker, Lindsey, Ally, Elody and I would be holding 80 percent of the cards."

After Sam finishes recounting her last day--in which she clearly doesn't come out looking so good--she tells us about how she died, then says: "Before you start pointing fingers, let me ask you: is what I did really so bad? So bad I deserved to die? So bad I deserved to die like that? Is what I did really so much worse then what anybody else does? Is it really so much worse then what you do? Think about it."

I went to high school with girls like Samantha Kingston and her friends. I haaaaated those girls. So. Much. Who wants to read a story about a bunch of horrible teenagers? No one. But you know what? When I was seventeen I was not that much better then Samantha Kingston. I gossiped, lied, cheated, cut class--the works. And I treated a lot of people badly--peers and adults. But I haven't really spent too much time thinking about the person I was in high school, that is until Sam asks us if what she did is so much worse then what we do.

That's why I kept reading.

As Sam relives February 12 we see her grow and change. Though at first her attempts at being a better person are so half-hearted you wonder if she's actually trying. And yeah, as the reader I got frustrated with Sam. I wanted to see her change right away, and she didn't. Then I remembered she's a spoiled teenager that hasn't been made to work for anything in her life. Remember, it was Sam herself who admitted: "It's nice that everything's easy for us. It's a good feeling knowing you can basically do whatever you want and there won't be any consequences." That's Sam's reality at the beginning of this story.

But then Sam learns that Juliet Sykes--the girl Sam and her friends have been mercilessly cruel to over the years--kills herself in the middle of the night (early morning of February 13th). Through this horrifying turn of events Sam is forced to take a good look at herself, at her friends, and what she sees drives her to an all-time low--when Sam hits bottom she really hits bottom.

Sam needs that low point--the chance to spiral out of control--even if it's just for one day. Because it is only after she's humbled that we see her make any significant changes. She starts to look at all she has (or rather, had) and be grateful for it. She looks at her family in a whole new light, and realizes just how much she loves them. She looks at her little sister specifically--a sweet little seven-year-old who is proud of who she is. Sam realizes she admires her little sister because she embraces the things that make her different from all her peers.

After Sam's low point her thoughts, her ideas become downright beautiful/amazing. There were many times I stopped to reread passages, and even consider them for a bit. It's at this point that my feelings from this book went from like to love.

"Maybe you can afford to wait. Maybe for you there's a tomorrow. Maybe for you there's one thousand tomorrows, or three thousand, or ten, so much time you can bathe in it, roll around in it, let it slide like coins through your fingers. So much time you can waste it.

But for some of us there's only today. And the truth is, you never really know."

And no, Sam still doesn't get things right away. She still struggles, but the important part is she's really trying, really working. She learns from her mistakes, makes corrections. Sam realizes--despite her belief that she can't be fixed--it's never too late to change. Some of Sam's changes don't come about until the 11th hour, but they do come.

And yes, I love how this book ends. I know there are a few people that simply didn't like this book because of how it ended, and for the life of me I cannot understand why. Any other ending would have been a complete cop-out (think about it). I happen to like ambiguous endings, because I get the opportunity to think about what I just read, can draw my own conclusions. I'm not going to say anything more because I don't want to spoil it for anyone.

I love this book, it is one of my favorites. I haven't been able to stop thinking about this book since I finished reading it two weeks ago, and because of that it will always have a home on my bookshelf.

By the way, I've spent an embarrassingly long amount of time trying to cobble together a semi-decent review of this book. Now go read it, stat. :)

P.S. this book deserves six stars.

Update April 4, 2010: my husband, who typically doesn't like the books I like, just stayed up all night reading this book. When he finished it he woke me up to thank me for recommending this book to him (and he wasn't being ironic. Believe me--I checked). He really likes this book. More then anything he loves the way Lauren Oliver writes. But overall he likes this story quite a bit. It was nice talking to him about it this morning. :)