Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Author: Lauren Oliver
Genre: YA Fiction/Paranormal
Pages: 480
Call number: Y Oliver (it hasn’t come in yet, so put this book on hold now and you can get it in March — IT’S AVAILABLE NOW, March 8)

I really didn’t expect to like this book. The plot sounds like something out of an after-school special, like a Very Special Story about about appreciating your life or caring about others or not going to parties without a designated driver. The plot sums up easily: Samantha dies in a car accident Friday night on the way home from a party with her friends, but she realizes she has to relive the entire day when she wakes up in her bed to find it’s Friday morning again. As she lives Friday over and over, trying to figure out how to stop her death, she starts to notice things about her life, her friends, and her family that she never noticed before.

Instead of hating it, though, this book totally amazed me.

It isn’t sentimental or depressing or heavy-handed. It’s sad at times, yes, and it does have a message that is hard to ignore. Samantha starts out a little unlikable – she’s not a horrible person, but she’s self-absorbed and entitled. She has a comfortable life with a close-knit family, a popular boyfriend, and three best friends. She takes her popularity, and the perks that come with it, for granted, and she and her friends ignore and/or torment those lower on the high-school food chain. The thing is, she doesn’t seem to recognize their casual cruelty for what it is. It’s just the way things are in high school. But anyone reading will see the devastating effects their bullying has on others, particularly shy, quiet Juliet, who has been a long-standing target.

You’d think Samantha reliving the day of her death multiple times would get repetitive, but it doesn’t. Samantha’s death is a mystery that needs solving, and figuring out how and why the car accident happened (so that she can prevent it) unearths a whole bunch of secrets. She is constantly trying new things to get a different ending, and her decisions result in more and more deviations from the first Friday. Something as simple as being late for school instead of being on time has a ripple effect; something more substantial, like not going to school at all, make big changes (keeping in mind that it’s always Friday, of course, so certain scheduled events always take place whether Samantha is there or not).

The story ends up being a very intricate dance of action and consequence, and what’s most compelling is how Samantha’s story widens from being focused mostly on her to what’s going on around her. This gradual change is really important, because it shows how much Samantha has changed as a person (kinder, more compassionate, more aware of others, more outspoken) and it brings the circumstances leading up to her death into clearer focus (and a twisty set of circumstances it is).

Living the same day over and over is the ultimate learning experience. Overall, this book is about Samantha coming to realize what’s truly important and making her life one she can be proud of. Again, I know how this sounds like a Hallmark card, but Oliver manages to do it in a totally believable way without bringing the sap. Let me assure you, I am violently allergic to sap, so I really mean this. It’s moving, it’s meaningful, and I still can’t believe it’s a first novel. Wow.

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